What does it mean to be the best player on the floor in a basketball game? Sunday night, the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo seemed to
. While his star teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett nearly vanished from the game, the skinny young point guard put up a triple-double and dominated the game down the stretch, making one back-breaking play after another: blocked shot, clutch jumper, slashing drive for a layup, crucial steal.
Two years after being a role player behind Boston’s Big Three of veteran All-Stars, Rondo is getting praised as the
on a championship-caliber team—the best point guard in the game—a
But Rondo’s dominance is a funny kind of dominance. His two best plays—
from behind, and tipping Kobe Bryant’s dribble away as the Laker superstar prepared to attack the basket—were both a matter of sneaking up on someone. While the two teams’ waves of big men banged bodies in the paint, Rondo darted into the spaces between them to snag a game-high 12 rebounds. His biggest shot, a medium-long jumper, came because the Lakers left him wide open to try it.
Rondo thrives, in other words, on the opportunities available to a player who is surrounded by talented teammates. That doesn’t mean he isn’t good, or even great; what it means is that the other Celtics free him up to do the things he’s great at. Give Rondo the duties of Chris Paul or Steve Nash, point guards who are lead scoring options for their teams, and he might be completely ineffective.
One of the other stars of game two was the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, who put up 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 blocks, and frequently looked unstoppable. If you were choosing players from the Lakers and Celtics to make a team, Bynum would not be one of the first five guys picked. But when defenses are busy trying to handle Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, Bynum becomes the biggest mismatch by default.
These are the kinds of players and performances that decide championships. The
—much bigger than the question of who is going to win the title right now—is where LeBron James is going to go, and how many titles that city might win as a result.
Now watch some championship basketball, the non-hypothetical kind. There are at least five players in the Lakers-Celtics series who have each, at one time or another, been the undisputed best player on a playoff team. Two of them have been plausible candidates for best player in the NBA. Each team has a young man-mountain in the middle. There is so much size and talent on the floor, players as accomplished as Ron Artest and Paul Pierce can disappear for a whole game.
LeBron James, otherworldly as he is, is only one player. Throw in Chris Bosh, as the speculation insists on doing, and you have…two players.