WALTHAM, Mass. -- With the Christmas opener in New York a mere three days away, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo chatted with reporters after practice Thursday for just the second time since training camp began two weeks ago. The brief conversation touched on team chemistry, Kevin Garnett’s mentorship, and his reflections on his fifth season with the Big Three.
“I think we’re as good as we’re gonna get right now, only having two weeks [of preseason],” Rondo said of his team’s readiness. “[Our chemistry] is OK. I think our second unit has to do a better job in terms of getting in a rhythm and a flow on offense. I think you saw that [in the preseason game] last night. But other than that, we’re fine. We’ll be fine.”
The Celtics’ second unit struggled a bit in Wednesday night’s 81-73 exhibition win over the Toronto Raptors. Keyon Dooling, Rondo’s primary backup, finished the game with zero points, as did swingman Marquis Daniels, who missed his lone shot of the game. Both players were better in last Sunday’s first preseason game, also against Toronto, when Dooling scored 5 points and Daniels added 11. The lack of consistency, Rondo said, is an issue of timing.
“[Timing] is very important,” Rondo said. “We prepare for the playoffs each year -- execution down the stretch and timing is a big part of it. Guys are gonna get into us, defend us, try to throw us off a rhythm. But we still have to find a way to get our timing down and execute.”
Asked where his team’s timing stands now just days from the opener against the Knicks, Rondo said, “It’s OK. I can’t give it a number right now, but the more games we play the better our timing will be.”
The Celtics could be without captain Paul Pierce on Sunday (bruised heel). Rondo stressed that he’s not worried about Pierce’s potential absence.
“We’ve been here before, so it’s not a big deal,” Rondo said. “It [just means] more shots for Kevin and Ray [Allen]. [Our focus] doesn’t really change. Guys -- Sasha [Pavlovic], Marquis, whoever fills in the role -- know what it takes. They’ve been here in our system for a couple years now -- Sasha two [years], Marquis three or four. We know what it takes. Guys have been missing before and guys are ready to step up, and they’ll be ready.”
One guy whose role will increase without Pierce -- at least from a leadership perspective -- is Garnett. It’s a challenge the 16-year veteran forward cherishes, and one at which Rondo said he excels.
“I think Kevin’s just a great leader,” Rondo said. “You want a leader, you want a guy like Kevin on your team, on your side. He works hard, he does it by his play but not necessarily his tongue. He does a lot of talking, too, but he backs it up. He’s a future Hall of Famer who’s done a lot in this league, and to have him as a mentor or a leader or however you want to call it, he’s a great addition to anyone’s team.”
Their relationship hasn’t been issue-free, Rondo admitted.
“We go at it a lot,” he said. “I think we have similar personalities. We got into it a lot our first couple years.”
“I got into it with a lot of people my first couple years,” Rondo added, laughing.
Still, as he enters his sixth season with the Celtics and his fifth with Garnett, the 25-year-old Rondo said the two are now closer than ever.
“We’re learning each other,” Rondo said, “and Kevin’s one of my best friends on the team right now. When [Kendrick Perkins] left I think it kind of made us closer. Kevin and I have talked a lot lately. We try to stay on the same page, both working on our attitudes for the better of the team, and me just growing up as a leader. He’s been one of my mentors.
“I’m getting older now. But I’m still young, I think. It’s been a great time, a great journey here being a Celtic ... But what we have now, we just gotta continue to get better and try to win a championship.”