By his stellar standards, and indeed by most standards, Rajon Rondo did not have a particularly good game in the Boston Celtics' Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night. Sure, he handed out 13 assists, but that's come to be more or less expected from Rondo, who has been in double figures in assists in 14 of 17 postseason games and had an amazing string of 24 straight games of double figure assists to close the regular season.
But Rondo scored only seven points on 3-15 shooting and committed five turnovers. The Associated Press recap of the game mentioned Rondo's Game 5 performance exactly once -- a fourth quarter turnover where he inexplicably passed the ball to a teammate in the backcourt.
Make no mistake. Rondo had a huge impact on Game 5 when it mattered most, and without him the Celtics don't take control of this Eastern Conference Finals series.
The box score may not look great for Rondo, but one stat does give an indication of his impact. In 44 minutes played, in a game the Celtics won by 4, Rondo was plus-11 while he was on the floor. Which means that the team was minus-7 in the four minutes he was on the bench.
More importantly, during the pivotal fourth quarter, while the Celtics were erasing a six-point deficit with a crucial 9-2 run, Rondo had a hand in all nine Celtic points.
The run started in an unlikely manner, after Dwyane Wade had denied Brandon Bass at the rim with a spectacular block. The loose ball went high in the air, and Rondo managed to tip the rebound directly to a wide open Mickael Pietrus for a three-pointer that cut the lead in half. As the ESPN broadcast was going to commercial, they showed replays of the Wade block and the Pietrus three, skipping over the real highlight -- Rondo's tip/rebound/pass.
Happily, analyst Jeff Van Gundy was not about to let it go unrecognized and gave the play its proper due when they returned from commercial. Just getting to the ball with his ridiculously long arms was one thing. But the court awareness to know that Pietrus was open even while tracking the rebound and the ability to put the pass on the money in one motion were uncanny. It helps to have hands the size of catcher's mitts, as well.
On the next possession, Rondo scored a transition layup to cut the lead to one, only his second field goal of the game. After a Wade jumper to stretch the Miami lead back to three, Rondo broke down the defense and got to the rim again, but missed a layup he almost always makes, indicative of his difficult shooting night. However, after missing the layup and seemingly being out of the play under the basket, Rondo somehow got back into the play, stole the offensive rebound and scored before the Miami rebounders knew what had happened.
On the next Celtics possession, down one with a chance to take the lead, neither the box score nor the play-by-play would tell you that Rondo had any role. He didn't get a rebound, a point or even an assist on the play. But as he had a few plays before, Rondo's keen court awareness saved the possession for Boston. After a missed Ray Allen three-pointer, Rondo beat LeBron James to the loose rebound. He could only get one hand on the ball, but was able to redirect the loose ball to Pietrus. Pietrus got credit for the rebound, and Paul Pierce got the assist on Kevin Garnett's jumper that gave the Celtics the lead with less than three minutes remaining, but it was Rondo who won an extra possession for his team.
Over the course of those three minutes, Rondo's stats were relatively modest -- four points, a couple of rebounds, an assist. But he was instrumental in all of Boston's points as they turned a six-point deficit into a one-point lead.
Even when he's not particularly good, Rajon Rondo is still pretty great.