Few people will dispute that Rajon Rondo is one of the top point guards in the NBA. He’s one of the top defenders and playmakers at his position, he’s a fierce competitor, and he has a well-deserved reputation as a player who elevates his game in the postseason. On the flip side, he’s a poor jump shooter and free throw shooter and he tends to defer to his teammates too often when scoring opportunities are presented to him. Considering his shooting woes, his reluctance to take open shots is somewhat understandable.
It’s significantly less easy to understand why he would pass up an open layup on a breakaway when the Celtics were down by a point with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies last night. The Celtics failed to score on the ensuing possession and ended up losing 90-87 after Paul Pierce missed a buzzer-beater attempt that would have tied the game. If Rondo attempted that layup, he most likely would have either converted it or been sent to the free throw line. His brief confidence crisis arguably cost the Celtics a win that would have brought them to within a half-game of the Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference.
There are a couple of possible explanations for why Rondo pulled up instead of trying to convert what should have been an easy basket. Perhaps he thought there was a Celtics trailer he could pass to, but he presumably noticed that Ray Allen had to dive to tap the ball to him. It’s more likely that he thought Tony Allen was going to catch him and block his shot, but why wouldn’t he attempt the layup anyway and possibly draw a foul?
If it was almost any other player in almost any other situation, I would probably shrug off this moment as a brain fart that can happen to any player. Because Rondo hasn’t been himself since his close friend Kendrick Perkins was traded last month (he averaged 11.0 points and 12.3 assists on 51 percent shooting before the trade and he’s averaged 7.6 points and 9.1 assists on 37 percent shooting since), Rondo’s slump could be caused by emotional concerns as much as the sprained pinkie finger in his right hand. If he’s not well enough mentally or physically to finish a breakaway layup that would give his team the lead late in the game, maybe it’s time to give him a brief rest — and a visit with a sports psychologist – so he can get his body and mind right for the playoffs.