Maybe it was some encouraging words from Doc Rivers. Perhaps it was some harsh ones from Gary Payton.
Whatever the case, Rajon Rondo is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Boston's point guard had his first triple-double in the Celtics' 114-96 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high 17 assists. That came two nights after a 16-point, 12-assist performance in a rout of Orlando.
The 6-foot-1 Rondo is one of the NBA's quickest players, and he has good rebounding instincts for someone his size. But his coach thinks the recent strong play isn't about those physical gifts.
"We had a pretty good talk about two weeks ago. ... His next step has nothing to do with basketball. It's mental focus," Rivers said. "Every night bringing his best game and his best focus. And when he does that, he's a good player. He's young and that's a tough thing. It's tougher than it sounds."
Only in his third season, Rondo is considered one of the weak links on a Boston team that features perennial All-Stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. That's how Payton seems to feel, comparing Rondo to players who ride superstars to championship rings while doing little more than waving towels from the bench.
"I respect the man's game, I'm just saying, man, he got put into a situation," Payton said last month while serving as a studio analyst on NBA TV.
Rondo endured a horrific 5-for-24 shooting stretch during a three-game span that started just before Payton's remarks. The Celtics lost to Denver on Nov. 14 in the third game, then Rondo scored at least 15 points in seven of his next 10 outings.
"He's been playing well. Ever since Gary Payton been hating on him, he's been playing great," teammate Kendrick Perkins said. "But that's Rondo. We know what he could do. Now he's just really starting to show it."
Most importantly for the Celtics, Rondo's strong play had them rolling. His triple-double came during their 10th straight victory, which matched the longest winning streak from their 2007-08 championship season and improved them to 18-2.
"We're hard to beat when it's like that, when it starts with our point guard," Garnett said.