Perfect Pair? Bayless, Rondo Excel Together

BOSTON – Forget about the small sample size. The Boston Celtics may have found a backcourt combo that could push them back into playoff contention.

Boston’s 59th game of the season began with what Brad Stevens called a “unique” starting lineup. It was a fitting word to describe a group that included Jerryd Bayless for the very first time.

Bayless, whom the Celtics acquired on Jan. 7, came off the bench for his first 20 appearances with the team. He finally paired with Rajon Rondo as Boston’s starting backcourt during Wednesday’s 115-104 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Jerryd Bayless and Rajon Rondo slap each other up

Danny Ainge chose not to complete a trade at the 2014 deadline, as he has now done in five of his 11 years as Celtics president of basketball operations.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

The duo combined for 59 points, 13 assists and four steals while leading the Celtics to their first victory since the All-Star break. Bayless led the game in scoring with 29 points, while Rondo led the game in assists with 11 helpers.

“It was good that they played well together,” Stevens said of Bayless and Rondo. “We haven’t seen that pairing much thus far. Maybe we will more as we move forward, I think certainly it makes a lot of sense based on what we saw tonight.”

As Stevens insinuated, this was the first opportunity Bayless and Rondo have had to play alongside each other for extended minutes. Only one previous game had featured 30-plus minutes of playing time from each player, and they only shared the court for 15 minutes that night.

Wednesday’s game was a much different story. The two were on the court together for more than 23 minutes against Atlanta. They played off of each other as if they’ve been starting together for years.

Bayless looked like a different player with Rondo by his side Wednesday night. The sixth-year guard shot the lights out while Rondo was on the court with him, making 57.1 percent (6-of-11) of his field goals and 66.7 percent (4-of-6) of his 3s. In short, he filled it up.

“Jerryd is a scorer,” Rondo said after the game. “He doesn’t really need me out there to make plays. He made a lot of plays for himself.”

And for others. Bayless wasn’t the only one who reaped the benefits of Boston's new starting backcourt. Rondo’s game improved as well.

Boston’s All-Star point guard took advantage of the spacing provided by Bayless’ hot shooting. Rondo dished out eight of his 11 assists while he was on the court with Bayless. Three of those helpers were tossed to Bayless himself during the shooting guard’s hottest stretch of the game.

This was by far the best performance Bayless and Rondo have put together alongside each other. It’s not, however, the first indication that this pairing is a promising one for Boston. Overall numbers from this season prove that Bayless and Rondo are much more efficient offensive players when they’re on the court with one another.

Bayless has made 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers this season while Rondo has been on the court with him. That number is up from 29.5 percent from long range while Rondo isn’t on the court with him, according to NBA.com/stats.

Rondo’s improvements are even more dramatic. He has shot 38.2 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from 3-point range this season while Bayless has been on the bench. Those numbers jump to 51.7 percent and 71.4 percent while Bayless is in the game with him. Rondo’s scoring also increases from 13.5 points per 36 minutes (PP36) without Bayless to 16.8 PP36 with Bayless.

Are these numbers beginning to convince you that the Bayless-Rondo backcourt is what Boston should ride with until Avery Bradley returns? If the answer is yes, you aren’t alone. Stevens is strongly considering using the same lineup when his Celtics host the East’s top team, the Pacers, Saturday night.

“I haven’t thought about it since the game ended,” Stevens said of maintaining the same starting backcourt, “but I think it’s a reasonable question to consider for Saturday depending on how we feel… I think it’s certainly something to consider.”

To Bayless’ credit, he isn’t letting his uncertain status as a starter affect him.

“I’m not really worried about that because Avery is out and Gerald (Wallace) has done a great job,” said Bayless. “Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’m still going to try to make the most of my opportunity to do the best that I can to help this team.”

The numbers say that Bayless helps this team the most when he’s on the court alongside Rondo. We may only have a small sample size, but all indications point toward the Bayless-Rondo backcourt combo being one that the Celtics can rely on moving forward.