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John Schuhmann

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Rajon Rondo (center) has carved up the Cavs' defense in the first two games of the East semis.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Pressuring Rondo one strategy Cavs should pursue


Posted May 6 2010 10:07AM

LeBron James was the MVP of the regular season for the second straight season, a near-unanimous choice. But the MVP of the first two conference semifinal games between the Cavs and the Celtics has been Rajon Rondo.

Rondo is averaging 20 points, five rebounds and 15.5 assists through the first two games, while shooting 60 percent from the field. He tied a Celtics postseason record with 19 dimes in Game 2, even though he didn't have any in the fourth quarter.

Maybe Cavs coach Mike Brown has a career in fortune telling ahead of him. He said the following about Rondo before Game 1:

"He's a guy that can beat you in all types of different ways. You're talking about offensive rebounding. You're talking about the steal game, which equates to obviously the possession game. He gets into the paint even though you don't want him in the paint. And he's not just getting there for himself, but he can create for his teammates. So he's a tough cover for anybody."

Rondo has just two steals in the series (and one of those should have been credited to Kevin Garnett), but he led the league in steals during the regular season and was named First Team All-Defense on Wednesday. He's done a solid job of staying in front of Cavs point guard Mo Williams in this series, but Rondo's biggest impact has clearly come on offense.

The Cavs obviously need to do a better job of containing the Celtics' only point guard. And if they look at the types of assists he's getting (see below), they might want to reconsider how closely they're guarding him on the perimeter.

Here are some Rondo-related numbers from the first two games to illustrate how much of an impact he's made:

172 -- Rondo has been on the floor for 172 (92 percent) of the Celtics' 186 offensive possessions, leading both teams with 87 minutes played. He played the first 35:28 of Game 2 before coach Doc Rivers took him out for the final 32 seconds of the third quarter. He then returned less than two minutes into the fourth.

The Celtics have scored 185 points on the 172 possessions (107.6 points per 100 possessions) with Rondo on the floor, and 11 points on the 14 possessions (78.6 per 100) with him on the bench. Small sample size aside, the latter number shows that without Rondo, the Celtics don't have a competent ballhandler and have a harder time getting into their offense.

127 -- To illustrate Brown's comments, Rondo has had a direct hand in 127 (64 percent) of the Celtics' 197 points. He has scored 40 himself, assisted on 73, produced another four via offensive rebounds or deflections, another three from free throws off of passes he made, and seven via "hockey" assists (where he made the initial play that resulted in a bucket two passes later).

102 -- Williams has guarded Rondo for 102 of the 172 possessions that Rondo has been on the floor. Much was made of the switch to put Anthony Parker on Rondo in the third quarter of Game 1, but it was Williams who was guarding Rondo for most of the fourth. That was when the Celtics scored just 15 points. Parker has guarded Rondo on 30 of the 102 possessions, only three more than Delonte West (27).

NBA defense is not a one-on-one task and the man guarding the ball always needs help from his teammates. But of Rondo's three primary defenders, Parker has seemingly done the best job (30 possessions are, of course, another small sample size). The Celtics have scored 29 points on those 30 possessions (96.7 per 100 possessions), with Rondo responsible for 20 (66.7 per 100).

With Williams defending Rondo, the Celtics have scored 106 points on 102 possessions (103.9 per 100), with Rondo responsible for 65 (63.7 per 100). And with West defending Rondo, Boston has scored 39 points on 27 possessions (144.4 per 100), with Rondo responsible for 31 (114.8 per 100).

17 -- Most of Rondo's assists (17 of the 31, producing 42 points) have come without him making a move toward the basket. As dangerous as he is when he penetrates, he's had more dimes just standing on the perimeter, with his teammates getting open via screens. There were also a few lobs to Kevin Garnett when he was being fronted by Antawn Jamison.

The Cavs may want to think about pressuring Rondo more up top so those passes aren't so easy to make. When the defender sags off, Rondo can easily make any pass he wants. With more on-ball pressure, his vision is blocked and the simple pass is more difficult to make. (Of course, more pressure means Rondo can beat the defense off the dribble.)

10 -- Ten of Rondo's 31 assists have come on drives in half-court sets. Five of those were drive-and-kicks to jump shooters and the other five were dishes to teammates under the basket. Of the 10, six came with the help of a high screen. Rondo was able to beat his man off the dribble for the other four.

4 -- The other four assists have come on the break. All four were to the Celtics' big men (Glen Davis, Garnett and Perkins), who have beat the Cavs' big men down the floor.

28 -- Most of Rondo's points (28 of the 40) have come on drives to the basket. Of those 16 scores (seven field goals, nine trips to the line), 10 came with the help of a high screen.

1 -- This final number isn't Rondo-specific, but fascinating nonetheless ... and perhaps a little encouraging for the Cavs. Though they won by 18, the Celtics scored on just one more possession (45) than the Cavs did (44) in Game 2. Boston benefitted from 13 three-point possessions and one four-point possession, and only had a single one-point possession. Meanwhile, Cleveland had nine one-point possessions and just seven three-point possessions.

The numbers above were compiled with the help of video from Synergy Sports Technology. Check out more Cavs-Celtics analysis from Synergy here.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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