After Rajon Rondo's dazzling display of leadership and basketball skills -- one that produced another postseason triple-double and big-time W -- he was asked about his team's approach after a disappointing Game 1 in Los Angeles. Citing "mental toughness" midway through the interview, he sounds so sure of the psychological element that helped his team tie the series as it heads back to Boston, that there must be a secret bottle of it -- MT, we'll call it -- somewhere. Perhaps the Celtics training staff concocted it on a day off or had it shipped from Beantown where more awaits on Tuesday.
Often eluded to in pre- and post-game discussions, yet often overlooked in preparation and real-time play because of limited time, ambiguity, or indifference, it's the aspect of the game that the greats hold so dear. Whatever Rondo did to consume it or feel that way, it's best that he holds on to the process.
A few days prior, Rondo's teammate Paul Pierce even conceded his thoughts on the subject, albeit suggesting the untouchable work of his foe-to-be:
"Once you master the mental part of the game, you become a master of the game of basketball," Pierce said. "There's only been one master in basketball ever, and that's Michael Jordan, but Kobe is pretty close."That is a strong statement. One, because it addresses what Kobe has that no other contemporary can claim. Two, because it's a former NBA Finals MVP showing his sincerity all the while aware that he is not at that level himself.
The mental aspect -- the area that separates the good from the great, and in this example, the master from all the rest -- is regarded in this arena as THE skill to master. More than the quickest and most accurate jump shot, the deadliest drop step, the smoothest crossover, the swiftest slide into a defensive stance, one who can elevate his game -- and even more, his teammates' -- with his mind has the ultimate advantage.
Was Rondo speaking for his team as a whole, or was it simply the way he felt at the time of the question? Some may think not the former, as a couple teammates didn't even turn in sub-par performances. But Rondo spoke as a leader and one who certainly believed in his priorities, tasks that aided his team down to the last second. A strip, a swat, a tip, a jumper. Masterful work stemming from his mindset to keep on clawing. He had the hot hand in more ways than just shooting. And that mentality allowed him to look like a master, at least for a couple of periods.