Game 2 Loss Negates Rondo's Epic Effort
MIAMI – Final box scores were littered all over the visitors’ locker room at the AmericanAirlines Arena. Doc Rivers exhaled loudly before starting his postgame press conference. Flip Saunders, who’s not even an official member of the Celtics’ coaching staff, was spilled over a chair in the lobby of the team hotel, devastated and incredulous.
What should have been an epic, series-changing win thanks to a historic Rajon Rondo performance collapsed in overtime.
“He was absolutely phenomenal. Put the whole team at times on his shoulders,” said Doc Rivers. “It’s tough to have him play that way and not win the game.”
Rondo wasn’t just the best player in the arena Wednesday night. He looked like the undisputed best player in the Association, dropping 44 points on 16-for-24 shooting in 53 minutes of play. Going wire-to-wire for the first time in his playoff career, Rondo played every single second of the Celtics’ 115-111 Game 2 overtime loss in Miami, and you can argue he’s never played a better game of basketball in his life despite the devastating loss.
Rondo also grabbed eight rebounds, handed out 10 assists, came up with three steals, hit the deck a few times, and according to Paul Pierce, “played his heart out” in a game where three Celtics’ teammates (including Pierce) fouled out. Meanwhile, LeBron James (34 points, 18-for-24 FTs) went to the line almost as much as the Celtics did as a team (29).
So yeah, it was one of those kind of games on the road in the NBA Playoffs. And the one time Rondo should have been at the line but didn’t go might have cost the Celtics a series-knotting victory. With the game tied in OT at 105-105, Rondo drove to the basket and got smacked across the face by Dwyane Wade, but the whistle never blew. Before you knew it, Udonis Haslem was dunking in transition, and the tide was turning for the Heat.
After the play, Rivers was physically restraining Rondo as he complained about getting no whistle. He was decidedly calmer (but presumably just as upset) in the postgame press conference.
“I think it was obvious... I really can’t comment about that play,” Rondo said.
Ray Allen, seated next to him at the podium, quickly interjected on his behalf.
“We all thought he got hit. I’ll say it,” said Allen.
Wade would later draw another whistle of his own despite kicking Kevin Garnett on his way to the basket, and that and-one play put he Heat up by five points with just under a minute to go.
“That was a big swing for us us,” Rondo added.
For a kid who allegedly can’t shoot, Rondo was draining shots from all over the gym. He nailed a pair of 3-pointers (and another long 2-pointer where he stepped on the line), 10 of his 12 free throws, and 10 shots from 15 or more feet. Of the eight field goals he missed, two were blocked.
For the longest time, the scouting report on Rondo has been to shade off him and force him to beat with you with his allegedly non-existent jump shot. After his shooting performance in Game 2, the Heat may want to rethink their strategy going forward.
“He shot the ball amazing tonight. It didn’t seem like he missed, like he was 24-of-24,” Wade said when asked about the conventional wisdom on guarding Rondo. “I thought we did a good job, we just tried to keep mixing it up on him. But he was just feeling it tonight. There was nothing you could do about it. He was out there every minute of the game and he made a big impact.”
LeBron James was also in awe of Rondo’s performance.
"Rondo was absolutely amazing," James said. "The performance he put on tonight will go down in the record books.”
Finally, Magic Johnson told an ESPN audience after the game that Rondo’s night was one of the greatest performances he’s ever seen. Magic Johnson said this. If there’s a higher authority on guard play in the NBA, let us know.
Still, after the greatest individual performance of his career, a forlorn Rondo had little to say about his finest hour.
"It's kind of irrelevant,” said Rondo, the first Celtic to record 40 points and 10 assists in the same playoff game. “We lost. It's as simple as that."
Rondo’s correct. Any records he set on Wednesday night are irrelevant, but the confidence he displayed shooting the basketball and carrying his team is highly significant. The Celtics are down 0-2 in the series and need to bounce back in a big way in Boston. Anything less than two victories at TD Garden will put them in an enormous hole.
Given the situation, whether it’s reasonable to expect it or not, the Celtics will need more of the same from their point guard this weekend. Because they’re a much different team when Rondo’s at his best.