Rondo puts on a clinic vs. Lin, Knicks

Linsanity has been the talk of the NBA over the past few weeks, and rightfully so. But the Knicks’ struggles in recent games have left some questioning whether Jeremy Lin’s stardom and New York’s time in the spotlight already have reached their peaks.

It’s still too early to say whether the Knicks’ catapult into relevancy is a legitimate transformation or just a flash in the pan, but New York’s 115-111 overtime loss to the Celtics on Sunday afternoon did nothing to help quell those grumblings that Linsanity is nothing more than a short-lived fad on its way out the door.

Lin, the second-year virtuoso out of Harvard, led his team into hostile territory in his old stomping grounds of Boston, but he and his teammates flopped on a national stage, shooting 43.6 percent from the field and committing 22 turnovers in the loss.

And in a departure from the usual Knicks narrative, it was the opposing point guard, Rajon Rondo, who stole the show. Rondo, who has been the target of a wave of trade speculation over the past few days, put on a historic performance at TD Garden — even for him.

Undoubtedly motivated by the incessant trade talks and all of the focus on the opponent at hand, the Celtics’ All-Star sent a clear message as he completely outclassed Lin, scoring 18 points to go with 17 rebounds and a spectacular 20 assists — a line that put Lin’s 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting, five assists and six turnovers to shame.

In filling out the stat sheet, Rondo proved his worth to his team and reminded the rest of the league that there are other point guards who are worth talking about. And he raised the bar for Lin, who is looking more and more like just an average talent in a system that’s tailor-made for him.

“He’s just unconventional,” Lin said of Rondo. “He’s one of the best in the league, and you saw his stat line tonight. There aren’t many guards, maybe no guards, who can put up something like that.”

The triple-double was Rondo’s second in three games, fourth of the season and 17th of his career (11 regular season, six playoffs). And in putting his team on his back, Rondo became the first player to record at least 17 points, rebounds and assists in a game since April 18, 1989, when Magic Johnson had 24 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in a win over Denver.

The last player to match Rondo’s line of 18, 17 and 20 was Wilt Chamberlain, who had 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists on Feb. 2, 1968.

“I’m just playing,” Rondo said. “The biggest thing is we got the win. . . . If you get those type of numbers and you lose, it’s kind of irrelevant.”

Irrelevant is beginning to sound like an appropriate word to describe the Knicks, who fell to 18-19 with the loss, just four games ahead of Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

After winning seven straight games to start the Lin Era, New York has fallen on hard times, going 3-4 in the seven games since, and as the Knicks plummet back to earth, Linsanity is starting to look more like a hot streak and less like a revolution.

People have rightfully criticized the Knicks’ improbable February run, calling it fools gold and a result of a weak schedule. New York went 3-1 against likely playoff teams after Lin started playing significant minutes, toppling the Lakers, Mavericks and Hawks at home. But in their only true road challenge — a visit to Miami on the eve of All-Star Weekend — Lin was embarrassingly ineffective and the Knicks got plastered as the Heat showed why they’re the class of the league.

On Sunday, New York’s point guard play, which had been the strength of its offense lately, had its share of struggles. Lin and reserve guard Baron Davis, who combined for 23 points, 21 assists and just one turnover Wednesday against Cleveland, had five points, six assists and nine turnovers in the first half against Boston.

Lin’s struggles continued in the second half as he struggled to combat tough Boston defense and foul trouble, but in the fourth quarter he showed flashes of the breathtaking play that has made him a household name.

After a back-and-forth fourth quarter that saw the Celtics lead by as many as nine, Lin outhustled Paul Pierce for a rebound, then hit a circus layup to cut the lead to 96-92 with 2:34 left in the game. On the next Knicks possession, Lin’s wide-open 3-pointer from the corner made it 96-95 with 2:07 left to play.

Then he got out of the way and let teammate Carmelo Anthony do the work.

Anthony, who scored 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting, and Pierce turned the waning minutes of Sunday’s game into a round of 1-on-1, and neither player disappointed. The players traded baskets down the stretch, but in the end it was Pierce — who hit an impossible, off-balance, game-tying 3-pointer with just 4.9 seconds left — who got the last laugh.

“The great players, they really like to play in these types of games,” said Pierce, who led all scorers with 34 points. “They like to step up as you saw tonight. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, myself (and) ‘Melo all hit some big shots. That’s what makes the game of basketball and these types of games so fun, because you always see the great players rise to the finish.”

Lin didn’t rise to the occasion in the extra frame, however, as he missed 6 of 7 shots in overtime while the Celtics rode five points, five rebounds and two assists from Rondo to the win.

“He’s going to make some mistakes,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said of Lin. “He’s got a learning curve. There’s no way you can throw him in here the first time he ever does it and expect it to be perfect. But he finds a way to be very positive in the end of games. . . He’s going to be good. It’s just a matter of going through some learning experiences.”

Unfortunately for the Knicks, now’s not the time to be learning on the fly, because things aren’t going to get any easier. New York faces a tough Texas two-step Tuesday and Wednesday, paying visits to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs, who are 14-2 at home and 13-2 in their past 15 games overall.

“There’s just some little things that we have to get better at,” Anthony said. “I think, and I believe that we will make some adjustments going down for the next game, but (today is) over with now. There’s nothing that I can do or say that’s going to change the results, so we’ll get ready for Dallas.”

That confidence doesn’t come as a surprise to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who said Lin’s success is legitimate and expects it to continue despite the challenging schedule ahead.

“You can see that they believe that they’re a good basketball team and that they can win games and that they can challenge,” Rivers said of the Knicks. “When you’ve got that type of spirit, you become a better team, and they have it.

“I think it started with Lin. . . . They went on a stretch without Carmelo and Amar’e (Stoudemire) … That, in some ways, saved the season for them.”

It was inevitable that Lin and the Knicks would start losing, but the question now is how they’ll respond to the taste of defeat — especially now that it’s coming in larger doses. The road only gets tougher from here, and if the Knicks don’t regroup quickly, they could lose their season as fast as Lin saved it.

Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner