Posted May 9 2010 9:33PM
BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, we all wondered what veteran they would bring in to play point guard, because there didn't seem to be any way Rajon Rondo, just a year removed from being selected 21st in a shallow draft and with just 25 NBA starts under his belt, was going to be able to run this team of future Hall of Famers.
Less than three years later, Rondo is his team's best player and the biggest reason they have a real chance at upsetting the Cleveland Cavaliers in this conference semifinals series, now tied at two games apiece.
"[He] has complete control of our team," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after another incredible performance from his point guard. "When we won [the 2008 NBA championship], he was still learning how to be a point guard. He was still trying to figure out how to help a team just win.
"Now we rely on him to win."
Is Rondo the best point guard in the league? The best player on his team? The best player in this series?
Forget the hyperbole for now. Just appreciate what you're watching. That's a 6-foot-1, 171-pound 24 year old who is carrying his veteran-laden squad against the MVP and the team with the league's best record, in what has become a very intense and competitive series.
There's no other way to put it. Rajon Rondo has been absolutely brilliant in these four games against the Cavs, putting up more ridiculous stat lines than LeBron James. His 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 4 on Sunday was the most outlandish line of the playoffs to date and the first time anyone's put those numbers up in the postseason in more than 40 years.
In Game 3, the Cavs made an adjustment to guard Rondo with Anthony Parker for most of the game, and also to put more pressure on him as he brought the ball up the floor. It seemed to work on Friday, but had no effect whatsoever when they tried it again two days later.
Rondo burned the Cavs from start to finish on this afternoon, never letting up, even though he played every minute of the game but one. And after his team got Rondo'd once again, Cleveland coach Mike Brown seemed resigned to the Cavs' inability to stay in front of the Celtics' point guard.
"Rondo had a huge impact on the game," Brown said, "but what we should worry about more than Rondo is Tony Allen coming off the bench and going 6-for-7 from the floor. You worry about us losing the transition game 23-7 ... us losing the second-chance game 13-0. Those are areas that you can't allow to have happen to your team if Rondo's having the type of game that he's having."
Indeed, the Cavs hurt themselves by with poor transition defense. If you're going to grab just three offensive boards and finish with zero second-chance points, you had better get back on D. Yet the Celtics had 23 fast-break points, their fifth highest total of the season. And a few of those came after a Cleveland score, as Rondo never let his foot off the gas.
With each team getting the ball 95 times, this was the fastest paced game of the series, eight possessions per team faster than Friday's Game 3. And though the Celtics played at one of the slowest paces in the league this season, they have the ability to flourish in the open floor with Rondo at the controls.
"They may be one of the older teams," James said afterward, "but Rondo is one of the youngest players in the playoffs. His quickness and his speed gets them out on the break, and he creates for himself and creates for others."
For the most part, the Celtics' break was fueled by their defense. Their intensity on that end returned after a one-game hiatus, again keeping James out of the paint. And with the game on the line early in the fourth quarter, that vaunted Celtics defense was the deciding factor.
They held the Cavs scoreless on the first nine possessions of the fourth, turning a two-point lead into a 12-point cushion. They forced four Cleveland turnovers in that stretch, three long jumpers, and a pair of rushed drives.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers gave Rondo extra credit for keeping the Cavs uncomfortable offensively.
"The stat that doesn't show ... was his ball pressure," Rivers said. "I thought that was the biggest difference, because they didn't get into their stuff as quickly as they did in Game 3.
"To me, that might have been the hardest thing he had to do tonight. And we were concerned about that robbing him of his energy. And then to go out and do the rebounding and the passing and the scoring, it was just an amazing effort."
Most of Rondo's rebounds came on the defensive end of the floor, enabling him to start the break on the fly. But the two biggest boards of the game came on the other end, after the Cavs had climbed to within three points late in the fourth quarter.
Rondo's two offensive boards with less than three minutes to go in the game led to four Boston points, the dagger being his put-back of a Garnett miss that was all instincts and effort.
In the first two games of the series, Rondo racked up assists on simple passes from the perimeter. But with the added pressure from the Cavs' defense, the 13 dimes he had Sunday required much more vision and precision, connecting with his teammates on the run or cutting behind the defense.
With 17 banners hanging at the top of the TD Garden, the Celtics have a storied playoff history. The Boston faithful have seen a lot of brilliant performances on the bright stage of the postseason. And you can put this one from Rajon Rondo near the top of the list.
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