BOSTON -- Rajon Rondo will be the first to tell you that the more he plays, the better. Tonight, however, a stint on the bench for the Celtics point guard may be the reason the NBA Finals just got a lot more interesting.
Thirty-six minutes of intense basketball and 144 points were already in the books for Game 2, and Rondo was the only player on the floor for every bit of it. While every other player gained their rest with sporadic substitutions throughout the game, Rondo was stuck refueling his tank during timeouts and stoppages of play.
At some point, though, that's simply not enough, and as the third quarter came to a close Doc Rivers knew he needed to make a move.
Rajon Rondo recorded his second triple-double of the postseason Sunday night in Los Angeles.
"Rondo was exhausted," Riversvsaid simply after the game.
So with the score knotted up at 72-72 heading into the final period and the most important minutes of the season on the horizon, Boston's starting point guard was forced to watch from the sideline as Nate Robinson replaced him.
The goal, obviously, was to get Rondo a couple minutes of rest so that he had enough left in the tank for the final eight to 10 minutes of the game, but the Celtics were pleasantly surprised to see that Robinson was ready to deliver some clutch plays while Rondo rested up on the sideline.
"We put Nate in and just one pick and roll and he scored, and he created scoring, so that was big for us," Rivers said of Robinson's contributions.
He came in and delivered instant offense for the C's, scoring seven points and not committing a single turnover. Those vital minutes were his only playing time of the night.
"I thought the seven minutes or six minutes that Nate Robinson played for us was huge," Rivers said.
Take note of the "seven minutes or six minutes" Robinson played, not two or three. Robinson was on the floor for the first 6:02 of the final quarter, allowing Rondo to recharge his batteries for half of the quarter. When Rondo checked back into the game at the 5:58 mark, he let everyone know those batteries were fresh.
The game changed instantly. Rondo scored six straight Boston points upon his return to put the C's back on top, 91-90, with 3:19 to go, and all six of those points came off of easy layups.
But believe it or not, none of those buckets doubled as his most important play of the game.
With Boston ahead by three points and Los Angeles in possession of the ball, Rondo used his All-Defensive First Team talents to change the game, too. As he stood out of position and behind Derek Fisher near the top of the key, he used his big mitts to reach forward and block Fisher's jumper from behind. The ball trickled over to Paul Pierce, giving the Celtics a chance to make it a two-possession game.
And who do you think made that happen? Rondo -- with a not-so-familiar, smooth 20-footer that he drilled as if his name was Ray Allen.
That sequence, combined with the other eight points Rondo scored in the final 5:58 of the game, were described by Phil Jackson as "key plays" that "changed the course of the game." That jumper put Boston ahead by five, and the lead never shrunk to a one-possession game from that point forward.
So on a night where Ray Allen, one of the clutchest shooters in the league, set an NBA Finals record with eight 3s, and Kobe Bryant, the league's most notorious big-shot maker, was on the floor, it was Rondo who played the role of closer. He stole the show in Tinsel Town with his second triple-double of the playoffs, consisting of 19 points and game-highs of 12 rebounds and 10 assists, to help knot this series up at 1-1.
It may have worked tonight, but don't expect to see Rivers employ a full-time strategy of sitting Rondo for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter again. After all, the more he plays, the better, right?