Two years ago, Rajon Rondo was the Boston Celtics' question mark as they headed into a Finals showdown with the Lakers.
It trailed him as speculators wondered whether the second-year point guard was too green and erratic at 22 to lead veterans against veterans for an NBA title.
But 24 months later, Rondo has become the Celtics' exclamation point, one of the NBA's top point guards, and now casts his own shadow, which is growing with every magazine cover he graces and highlight reel he owns.
"He's one of the best, and I say that because he plays both ends of the floor extremely well," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said.
It has been a mighty jump, though. Back then, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said Rondo took doubts about his game personally, and felt he had to prove he could score, which bungled the offense at times, making him a liability.
"Two years ago he was on the bench in a lot of big situations," Rivers said Wednesday at practice.
There was also the issue of trust from his teammates. "We had to learn to trust Rondo over the years," Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. "Over the season we saw some of the things he was doing, and I think the more confident he got, the more vocal he became. The better his game got, the more we started to listen."
Rondo said he now finds other ways to dissect defenses, and that he can pick and choose his shots, which he has made more of after off-season workouts with famed shooter Mark Price.
"He takes a shot when he has a shot, but he doesn't turn it into one-on-one warfare anymore. He just runs the team," Rivers said.
And now, "We don't care really who guards Rondo, we're still going to run the same sets," Rivers said.
Rondo shouldn't be slowed by his health, which was in question after he suffered back spasms in the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando. "I've been getting a lot of massages, a lot of treatment. I'm feeling better and better each day," he said. "[Thursday,] I'm sure I'll be back at almost 100%."
Amid ever-growing respect for him league-wide, slights toward Rondo are fewer, but he still carries his own. "People still don't consider me the best point guard," he said.
If Celtics center Kendrick Perkins is out, either with a one-game suspension if he gets hit with another technical foul or just because of foul trouble in general, Rasheed Wallace could replace him.
Wallace has struggled with a sore back since Game 5 of the Eastern finals, but he practiced Wednesday and took part in contact drills after being held out earlier this week.
But Rivers said he still has doubts whether Wallace can play major minutes. "I don't have an answer to that," Rivers said. "Obviously the longer the series goes on, the … healthier Rasheed will get."
Buy NBA Finals tickets here
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.