Posted May 13 2012 12:14PM
Doc Rivers seemingly contradicted himself.
A little after 7 p.m. on Saturday, he told the assembled media the following about facing the Philadelphia 76ers, who flourish on the break and struggle in the half-court: "If it's a track meet, it's not going to be good for us."
A little while later, as his team was about to take the floor for Game 1 of the conference semifinals, Rivers wrote these four words on the locker room white board: "We want to run."
Apparently, a fast pace is good for the Celtics, as long as it's going in the right direction.
Over the next few hours, Rivers' worst fear came true ... and he also got his wish. Game 1 was played a quick pace, with the teams combining for 187 total possessions. The fast pace went in both directions at times, but the player who affected it most was Rajon Rondo.
It just took Rondo a while to get going. He was rather invisible as the Sixers dictated the pace in the first quarter and built a double-digit lead. The fast pace was going in the wrong direction, and Rondo was scoreless in the period, with three assists and a turnover.
"I thought he was searching for what to do early on, how to attack," Rivers said afterward. "And I told him I thought what that did, we didn't execute our stuff. We were in random [offense] too much."
But from the point he checked back in midway through the second, Rondo took over, scoring or assisting on the Celtics' next 16 points. He turned on the aggressiveness and pushed the ball at every opportunity. The fast pace was going in the right direction now.
"We don't want them to run," Rivers said. "We want to run every time. We feel we can rebound, get out on the break. We feel we can Kevin deep in the post early.
"We need to get easy baskets. It's important for us. And really, it's important for Rondo, because when you get in that slow-down, half-court, then they can kind of help off him, help off Avery [Bradley]. When we're running, it's tough for them to do that."
Bradley was Rondo's running mate, scoring six of the Celtics' 14 fast break points. Most of the night, Rondo was setting up Kevin Garnett on the pick-and-pop in the half-court. But the biggest play of the game came when the Celtics turned a Sixers fast-break into one of their own with less than three minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Lou Williams had a run-out after a Celtics turnover, but Bradley denied him at the rim. Rondo grabbed the rebound and took off down the floor. Garnett gave him a screen at the foul line, and when Rondo found resistance at the rim, he handed the ball back to Garnett for the and-one that gave the Celtics the lead for good.
Paul Pierce has a tough matchup in this series and Ray Allen is trying to shoot on a bad ankle. So Rondo and Garnett will have to carry a large load offensively. Garnett led all scorers with 29 points on Saturday, and more than half of those came on Rondo assists.
"One of the major advantages they have," Williams said, "is Rondo knows exactly where everybody wants the basketball."
But Rondo also got in on the scoring act late, hitting two huge elbow jumpers. And the crazy thing is that both of them came off the same play, which was actually <em>designed</em> for Rondo to shoot a jumper off a feed from Paul Pierce, who takes a handoff from Garnett and draws an extra defender.
"We were going to switch Ray and put him in that spot," Rivers said, "and Rondo wanted that play. He wanted the shot and he took it. That has to be great for his confidence."
"Swag was aggressive man," Garnett added. "I thought second half, he did a lot better job looking for his shot. He has a lot of confidence. He's been really, really working on his game."
Rondo, of course, downplayed the whole thing.
"I just made some plays," he said. "It was a team effort, and I made some shots."
That wasn't all for the Rondo show. With his team up three in the final seconds, he gave a smart foul on Jrue Holiday to prevent the Sixers from tying the game with a three. And then he closed the game by out-running Evan Turner on the ensuing inbounds play.
Rondo finished with his eighth career postseason triple-double: 13 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists, adding four steals. But it wasn't a complete <em>Rondo Game</em>, because of the first-quarter tentativeness, which may have been a result of an altered game-day routine.
"I didn't think I would play the way I played tonight," Rondo said. "I didn't get a nap today so I didn't know what to expect."
Game 2 is Monday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT). And if Rondo gets his nap that afternoon, the Sixers might be in some serious trouble.
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