Boston's Engine Could Fuel C's Past Heat

WALTHAM, Mass. – If Rajon Rondo is the engine that runs the Boston Celtics, who will he be racing against in the Eastern Conference Semifinals?

The question must be asked after Mario Chalmers markedly outplayed Mike Bibby during Miami’s first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Bibby has been the Heat’s starting point guard since his arrival in early March, but that could change heading into this anticipated series against the C’s.

There are two positions that Miami’s Big Three don’t occupy, and one of them is point guard. Rondo took advantage of that fact against the Heat during the regular season, to the tune of 12.0 APG and a phenomenal 4.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Boston will certainly be looking for that type of production to continue, while the Heat will be searching for a way to close the gap between Rondo and their point guards.

Bibby, in the twilight of his career, has turned into a one-dimensional player for the Heat. His position still reads “point guard,” but he has essentially turned into an off-the-ball, stand-still shooter from behind the 3-point arc. More than 60 percent of his shot attempts during the regular season came from behind the 3-point line, and that number has risen to 68 percent in the playoffs. The issue, though, is that during five playoff games against Philadelphia, Bibby made only 21 percent of those attempts from downtown.

Rajon Rondo says that Mario Chalmers is more of an in-your-face defender than Mike Bibby.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

It would seem like a bold move to change starting point guards heading into the Conference Semifinals, but Erik Spoelstra has to consider it. Chalmers has proven to be a better player during the playoffs in nearly every statistic. The only exception is rebounding, where Bibby holds a 2.4 RPG to 1.8 RPG advantage. Most importantly, though, the Heat outscored the 76ers by 56 points while Chalmers was on the floor during the first-round series. With Bibby on the floor? That was a different story. Philadelphia caught their groove and outscored Miami by 18 points during those 99 minutes of play.

The quality play and undeniable results that Chalmers has provided has already led to him becoming the primary point guard. He averaged five more minutes of playing time in the first round than Bibby, so it seems as if tossing him into the starting lineup is simply a formality.

Just two days ahead from Game 1, even Rondo is questioning who will be the opposing point guard for the opening tip.

Unprovoked on that topic, Rondo said before Friday’s practice, “I don’t know who’s going to start (at point guard).”

Whoever does start, they’re going to have their hands full. Rondo is coming off of a red-hot (or white-hot, in Miami’s terms) series against the New York Knicks in which he averaged 19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 12.0 APG. That performance included a triple-double in Game 3 that featured a career playoff high 20 assists.

If Miami is unable to slow down Rondo’s performance, the Heat are going to have issues. It’s accurate to say that as Rondo goes, the Celtics go. When he performs well statistically, the Celtics win. That is evidenced by his increase of in several statistics in wins compared to losses.

Rondo drops an average of 12.4 dimes when the Celtics win, compared to just 8.5 in Boston’s losses. His shooting percentage increases from 40.6 percent in losses to 51.1 percent in wins.

There’s no better place to go than the subject to find out who would give him more trouble defensively between Miami’s two point guards. Rondo said on Friday afternoon that he thinks Bibby may be a more solid defender overall, but Chalmers has his strengths at that end of the floor as well.

“Chalmers is gonna put pressure on you, make you turn your back, play the passing lanes,” he said.

Putting pressure on Rondo would be something the Knicks didn’t do in the first round. New York chose the “Rondo Defense,” which is when the player defending Rondo sags off and stays below the free-throw line, forcing Rondo to play on the perimeter rather than in the paint.

The Rondo Defense is a similar tactic to a defensive shift in baseball for a pull-hitter. The opponent is essentially daring a player to settle for his weakness. In baseball, that weakness would be hitting the ball to the opposite field, away from the shift. For Rondo, it’s an attempt to lure him into settling for jump shots, which are definitely not his strong suit.

With Miami’s starting point guard position up in the air, Doc Rivers isn’t expecting anything but the unexpected in terms of who will defend Rondo in this series.

“I think you’ll see Chalmers and Bibby on [Rondo], I think you’ll see LeBron (James) and (Dwyane) Wade on Rondo,” Rivers said. “I think they’ll go to the Rondo Defense that we all labeled, where they’re just helping off of him and trapping off of him. How we handle that will be key in this series.”

Is it how well the Celtics handle that, or how well the Heat execute it? If Miami’s defensive tactics on Rondo aren’t successful, the Heat will be in trouble, there’s no doubt about that.

When Rondo is producing, the Celtics win. If he puts up big numbers throughout this series, Boston’s engine will put the Celtics into overdrive in the passing lane.