by Jonathan Evans

Two minutes left in the game, Rajon Rondo pulls the ball back out and resets the offense. Up 13, he directs traffic, waving his arms to move Perkins out of the paint. Seconds later, he throws up the alley, and K.G. emphatically smashes the oop. There it is, the exclamation mark. In a game billed as Oops!a matchup between two title contenders, Rondo and the Celtics show just how far Portland is from challenging the top dog.

The starters were summoned back into the game midway through the fourth quarter after the upstart Blazers chipped a 24-point lead down to 11. After delivering the knockout blow, the starters left the court after the next dead ball. For the players, it’s just another day at the office. Another night, and another would-be contender is humbled.

Early going, Portland came out strong, matching the Cs shot for shot, to keep the game close through most of the first half. Then, toward the end of the second quarter, the flip was switched as the Celtics went on a devastating 21-0 run. With machine-like efficiency, the Cs cranked up the defense, started yelling, and started taking the Blazers out of their game as they held then without a field goal for an 11-minute stretch.

After a while, this systematic destruction was almost boring to watch. That’s precisely what makes the Celtics almost scary good: Watching them go to work. It’s like watching a machine. The system rules all. Each piece does a job that contributes to the whole. Everyone knows how his role contributes to another notch in the win column.

The machine rules all. Just ask Big Baby about what happens when you screw with the machine.

But this year, when the time comes for the Celtics to form like Voltron, Rajon Rondo is the black lion at the head.

Rondo followed up his 16, 13 and 17 performance against Indiana with another strong performance against Portland to lead the Cs machine. From the start, Double-R was assertive, driving by the outmatched Steve Blake, opening up opportunities for himself and clean looks for his teammates. He simply couldn’t be contained in the halfcourt. Many times, Rondo lulled the defense to sleep and used his explosive first step to drive by. This is even more noteworthy when you consider that every team in the League Blake < Rondoplays Rondo for the drive. He also flaunts a steadily improving jumper—he sank one from 33 feet to end the third. Rondo finished with 16 points, eight boards and seven assists, once again placing his stamp on all parts of the game.

With all due respect to Devin Harris and Derrick Rose, there isn’t a better point in the East than Double-R.

The Celtics’ system is so strong, there isn’t as much need for standout individual performance. This is especially true this season with Rondo asserting more consistency and control. Sure, you’ll have the breakout game, like Ray’s 31 against Indiana on Sun., but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of the Big 3 finish in the Top 15 in scoring at seasons end.

More notes from Friday’s matchup:

– Travis Outlaw wins the award for most aggressive pre-game listener to Lil Wayne. Bouncing and bopping along, he spits Weezy’s lyrics bar for bar in the Portland locker room. He does make time to compose himself slightly when the ESPN cameras stroll in to get a shot of him preparing for the game. This brings up an interesting question: Does the pre-game getting amped up ritual work the same for a bench player? Coming in cold a half hour or so into the game, does Weezy’s flow still have the same effect? In his 25 minutes of action, Outlaw finished with 13 points, including several tough contested jumpers. So it looks like the effect of Weezy is not shackled by conventional time constraints.

– As usual, over in the home locker room, Ray is holding it down solo as most other players are hiding out in the trainer’s room. The lighthearted conversation turns to music. Ray mentioned that the last concert he went to was a Justin Timberlake show. When asked if he went to the Jay-Z concert, he replied he didn’t. He acknowledged that Hov is one of the greatest, but that he needs to make sure that when he goes to a show, its something kid friendly.

Odenized vs. Perk Is A Beast– During a timeout, the jumbotron shows a giant bottle of grape jelly dancing in to the ‘It’s peanut butter jelly time’ song. In addition to his Hall of Fame-bound game, one thing K.G. brought to the Celtics was a penchant for eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a pre-game ritual.

– At Halftime, the ESPN trio of Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen stroll late into the pressroom. Eager beat writers snatched up most of the good junk food already, leaving behind Hershey’s with Almonds and salt and vinegar chips.

– Its been said a million times before, but there may not be a more awkward big man in the game than Greg Oden. He was one of the bigger storylines coming into the game, but proved to be a non-factor as foul trouble limited him to 18 minutes of action. When not on the bench, the lumbering, methodical Oden missed a dunk attempt and later air balled a turn around. If you were to imagine the opposite of vintage Hakeem, it would’ve been Oden’s performance Friday against the Celtics. In the postgame, Pierce provided the silver lining by conceding that Oden is raw now but has the tools to be something special.