Monday, June 09, 2008

Rondo's 16 Assists

I want to take just a few seconds to recognize the performance of Rajon Rondo in Game Two of the NBA Finals. Granted, I often conduct myself on this blog as if I were Rondo's best friend, older brother, and agent all wrapped into one, but that is in large part due to the fact that no one else seems to give this guy as much credit as he deserves.

No doubt by the time you read this, there will be dozens of takes on Game Two and I am willing to wager that few of them focus on Rondo. That's because there was the Lakers' near miracle comeback (the flip side of which is, of course, the near choke on Boston's part), the ongoing Pierce knee saga, the free throw shooting disparity (38-10 - are you serious?), the Lakers' ongoing refusal to pass the ball to the unstoppable Pau Gasol, and a variety of other tantalizing subjects to focus on from tonight's game.

So I'll be the guy singing Rondo's praises.

Specifically, I want to make sure everyone understands just how impressive it is that the second-year guard with the incredibly long fingers dished out 16 assists in a Finals game. Yes, his six boards, lack of turnovers, two steals, and an impressive block of a Radman three were all key as well, but those dimes really caught my eye.

First, the nature of the passes. He had a few flashy drives and dishes (specifically the fast break oop to Powe and the fake-behind-the-back dish to Powe underneath), a truly sensational baseline drive and left-handed kick out to Pierce (had that been Nash, the ABC announcing booth would have discussed the pass for 10 minutes instead of ignoring it completely), a pretty cool looking windup and pitch to a cutting Pierce, and a handful of other nifty plays. But what really stood out to me was the way that Rondo put the ball in the shooting pocket of his wing players. He was often moving at high speed and avoiding defenders while finding shooters, so to put the ball on that right shoulder every time was quite an achievement. There's a reason that Pierce was 4-for-4, Allen 3-for-6, and Posey 2-for-3 from behind the arc ... Rondo was giving them the ball in prime position for a catch-and-shoot. (Note: When he wasn't catching Rondo's deft passes, Pierce was throwing some beauties of his own.) It is so rare for any player - young or old - to hit the shooting pocket these days that I feel this was the most impressive aspect of Rondo's performance. It was a joy to watch a point guard push the ball, create passing angles, and then hit his guys in stride.

Of course, the sheer number of assists that Rondo piled up was mighty impressive as well. I'm sure he got a couple of generous calls from the official scorer, but that's a mountain of AST's. In fact, if we weren't so spoiled from the gaudy numbers that Chris Paul threw up all postseason, we'd probably appreciate the figure a little more.

Maybe this will help: Rondo's 16 assists are the most in an NBA Finals game since 1991.

If you are like me and sometimes forget that it's not still the late 90's, that's seventeen years. In the last four NBA Finals prior to this throwback clash, only LeBron James (10 in 2007) managed to even clock double-figures. The last time someone recorded more than 14 assists in a Finals game was Magic Johnson in Game Five of the 1991 Finals, when he dropped 20 dimes on the Bulls in a losing effort.

In the years since, guys by the name of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, Penny Hardaway, Mark Jackson, Gary Payton, and Jason Kidd have played in the Finals and not one of them was able to rack up the 16 assists that Rondo had tonight. Now are you impressed? This kid's no joke, people.

Oh, and for you history buffs and stat geeks out there, I decided to go ahead and compile a list of all the double-digit assist performances in the Finals from 1992 on:

16 - Rajon Rondo, Boston, 2008
14 - Penny Hardaway, Orlando, 1995
13 - John Stockton, Utah, 1998
12 - Scottie Pippen, Chicago, 1993
12 - John Stockton, Utah, 1997 (three times)
12 - John Stockton, Utah, 1998
12 - Eric Snow, Philadelphia, 2001
12 - Jason Kidd, New Jersey, 2002
11 - Michael Jordan, Chicago, 1992
11 - Gary Payton, Seattle, 1996
11 - Scottie Pippen, Chicago, 1998
11 - Marc Jackson, Indiana, 2000
11 - Jason Kidd, New Jersey, 2003
10 - Scottie Pippen, Chicago, 1992 (twice)
10 - Scottie Pippen, Chicago, 1993
10 - Michael Jordan, Chicago, 1992
10 - Kevin Johnson, Phoenix, 1993
10 - Charles Barkley, Phoenix, 1993
10 - Derek Harper, New York, 1994
10 - Avery Johnson, San Antonio, 1999
10 - Derek Fisher, Los Angeles, 2000
10 - Jason Kidd, New Jersey, 2002 (twice)
10 - Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 2003
10 - Jason Kidd, New Jersey, 2003
10 - LeBron James, Cleveland, 2007

(One more fun fact - In Game Two of the 1999 Finals, the New York Knicks recorded a grand total of eight assists as a team.)