It was Johnson who last produced a triple-double with at least 17 in each of the three statistical categories, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Against the Denver Nuggets on April 18, 1989, Johnson had 24 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in a 142-118 victory. Also, according to Elias, the last person to have a triple-double with at least 20 in each category was Wilt Chamberlain, who had 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 2, 1968.
Rondo’s tour de force came against the backdrop of numerous trade rumors during the last week as the Celtics wrestle with the decision to break up the team, which is a mere two games over .500 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. He seems to respond well in such situations. He opened the season with 31 points and 13 assists against the Knicks after rumors that he had been offered in a deal for Chris Paul.
This game, however, dwarfed that one, as well as what had been Rondo’s personal gold standard: 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I think I’ve been playing better since the trade rumors, so keep them going,” Rondo said after the game in a television interview.
Rondo played all but 5 minutes 13 seconds, including all of the overtime, when he had a hand in 10 of the Celtics’ 12 points, scoring 5 points on two baskets — one of them a layup after a huge offensive rebound — and assisting on two Ray Allen baskets, one of them a 3-pointer. The other 2 points, free throws by Brandon Bass, came on a foul after Rondo fed him for what was going to be an easy basket.
“He really stepped up,” the Celtics’ captain, Paul Pierce, said of Rondo. “That’s the Rondo we like to see. He played with a lot of energy. He got the ball to guys in open spots. He did everything for us.”
He also did a superb defensive job on the Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin, who had 14 points (on 16 shots), 5 assists and 6 turnovers.
“Rondo was up on him,” Celtics Coach said of the defense on Lin. “That’s what we should do every night. It was great to see.”
As much as he did individually, Rondo needed help to avoid what would have been the Celtics’ first home loss to the Knicks since the 2006-7 season. Kevin Garnett was a force in 41-plus minutes with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Bass had 18 points and 4 blocks.
Pierce had 34 points, matching his season high, including 15 in the third period, when the Knicks scored only 16.
His final points came on an improbable 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, 103-103.
The Knicks, who had overcome a 15-point deficit in the third quarter and a 9-point deficit in the fourth, led, 103-100, after two Steve Novak free throws with 18.1 seconds left. The Celtics had no timeouts and tried to get Allen free, but Pierce ended up with the ball. The Knicks elected not to foul and with Iman Shumpert watching, Pierce hit the 3-pointer from the top of the key. Carmelo Anthony, who had 25 points, missed at the buzzer.
Asked if he was surprised that he wasn’t fouled, Pierce said: “I didn’t think about it. I just tried to get off a good shot.”
Of the shot, Pierce said, “I might have rushed it a little, but it felt good.”
Rivers, who was clearly upset with his team’s lack of discipline down the stretch, called the Pierce shot lucky and brought out an old dance to describe it.
“It was hully gully or whatever you want to call it,” Rivers said. “We just told our guys to keep handing it off until someone got free. And Paul made a big shot.”