Game Notes: Celtics at Thunder
An evening with the future.
by Todd Spehr
This space could be devoted to acknowledging two special young points guards – Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo – and their exciting futures, their already-exciting presents, and their noted differences (one being incredibly explosive. the other largely earthbound), but what about this: They are the new breed of point guard. With the Celtics visiting the Thunder in Oklahoma City, it’s one of only two meetings between the two, and a unique opportunity to observe them.
4:48 PM (CST): Thunder coach Scott Brooks stands before the media, talking about the plights of his team. The topic of conversation turns to Boston, and Rondo’s name comes up. Brooks, himself once a point guard of a very different kind a generation ago, talks about Rondo’s obvious joy in being unselfish, in finding open players and seeing them score. Brooks is right, there is a joy in the way Rondo distributes the ball.
4:52: Westbrook is sitting in front of his stall in the locker room, his mind divided between the necessary pregame film of Boston and the not-quite-as-necessary chitchat with the media. He is asked about his prior experiences with Rondo, and Rondo’s presence in the building that night doesn’t inspire any significant reaction with Westbrook. “It’s the same for me regardless of who is on the opposing team,” he says flatly. He then talks a little about their summer together on Team USA, but overall, there’s little to their history.
4:57: Rondo has made his way to the floor, the earphones firmly ensconced, at least temporarily keeping out the glare. He works on his shot. Nothing spectacular: Five spots, getting up a heap of shots, breaking a sweat, moving on. There is a large gathering around Boston’s basket; they seem to have that sort of following no matter where they play. Rondo, himself once feared to be something of a question alongside the Big 3, is now considered as valuable as all of them, and the fans are fixated on him.
5:03: The whiteboard in the Boston locker room is extremely detailed with OKC minutiae. A portion of the board, of course, is devoted to stopping Durant. But there’s also plenty devoted to Westbrook: Stop or limit him in transition, be aware of him in the pick and roll, be even more aware of his “paint attack.”
5:14: Doc Rivers, outside Boston’s locker room, is asked about young teams winning this quickly. Rivers notes that he’s coached young teams before – but they never had Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Rivers is asked about Westbrook, and he lauds his creativity, speed, and athleticism, and also his talent in finding Durant in the right spots, an underrated quality.
5:16: Timing his workout with precision, Rondo leaves the floor and enters Boston’s locker room with 44 minutes before tip. The media had to exit just one minute prior.
5:59: After testing the basketballs for the referees before making a decision, Rondo strolls to half-court where he meets with Westbrook and Durant for the captains’ meeting. During Boston’s introductions, Rondo appears separate from his team; he’s not dancing, not even jumping with the group – he’s all business. Westbrook, on the other hand, is jumping everywhere.
6:12: Before the tip, Westbrook and Rondo don’t greet, merely point, acknowledging each other.
6:18: Rondo is constant in everything he does, even when communicating. If there’s a deadball he’s usually talking with Doc Rivers before relaying things back to his teammates. He’s not loud, but he’s heard.
6:27: Westbrook hits Durant with an alley-oop from half-court. Westbrook isn’t forcing anything, actually, he hasn’t even taken a shot, and is looking to create. Almost Rondo-like.
6:30: Off a steal, Rondo has a wide-open layup, but opts to drop it back to Marquis Daniels. Scott Brooks’ pregame comments – “He’s so unselfish, he enjoys setting those guys up” – are remembered.
(End of first: Boston 28 Oklahoma City 21. Rondo 2 points and 5 assists; Westbrook 0 points and 4 assists.)
6:52: Westbrook is frustrated. Still without a field goal, he’s not getting the easy looks he’s accustomed to. He’s snapping a little at the referees, he’s trying to post Rondo with little success, and Boston is extending their lead.
6:54: Rondo hits Ray Allen for the jumper, his third assist in a 79-second span. Shooters have zones, and well, Rondo has them too with his passing. Sometimes he gets in streaks where every decision – either in the half-court or on the break – is the right one. In a way, his suspect shooting is an advantage: The defender will play off, and Rondo will probe and decipher, choosing the pass he wants to make.
(Halftime: Boston 58 Oklahoma City 37. The Celtics broke away thanks to an active bench and hot shooting. Rondo had 8 assists and controlled the floor despite just three shot attempts; Westbrook went without a field goal, had 4 assists but 5 turnovers.)
7:24: Westbrook is one of the first out of the break to warmup. He needs to see a shot go in. Rondo briefly dabbles with the layup line before sitting down.
7:35: It happens. Westbrook hits his potent pull-up in transition, drawing a foul on Rondo. There’s a bounce in his step and all it took was a bucket – oh, to be young and confident. He hits another pull-up, then forces a steal and dunks on the other end, and later has back-to-back assists to Durant. Just like that, there’s crowd involvement and Westbrook has revived the game.
7:48: Westbrook delivers another burst: He strips Rondo and dunks, hits Durant on the break, then hits a pull-up on the next possession. He did this in the Lakers series last year and even at times during the summer for Team USA, just turning games on their head in brief moments.
(End of third: Boston 73 Oklahoma City 64. Durant had 31 on 16 shots, and Westbrook suddenly had 14 points, 8 assists and 4 steals. Rondo had 10 assists and 8 points on 6 shots.)
8:10: Rondo returns to a 13-point game and ices it with a late penetration and scoop over Serge Ibaka’s outstretched arm.
8:16: Westbrook tried to create opportunities in the fourth quarter but just couldn’t. He exits late in the game; a tale of two halves for him.
(Final: Boston 93 Oklahoma City 82. Rondo finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 assists; Westbrook also had a double-double with 16 points (on 16 shots) with 10 assists but 8 turnovers.)
8:40: Rondo looks tired. He sits by himself in the Boston locker room, his feet in ice, staring at the box score. You would presume he’s happy, but who really knows. While Nate Robinson is charming the media with his constant chatter at the buffet, Rondo is quiet. The media patiently waits for him to shower and dress, but he’s none to thrilled about the attention. He briefly address his foot problem (Will you sit out? “I don’t want to”) before walking to the bus.