Rondo Forces Issue, Pushes Pace as C's Down Knicks Again
Point Guard Drops 30 for Boston as Celtics Gain 2-0 Series Edge
BOSTON - For the past three years or so, every defense that Rajon Rondo sees is daring him to shoot jumpers and trying to keep him from driving to the hoop. Tuesday night, Rondo drove at will and even knocked down a few jumpers for good measure, and his up-tempo attack set the tone for the Celtics in their 96-93 Game 2 win over the Knicks at TD Garden.
Rondo finished with 30 points and just seven assists, well below his regular season 11.2 APG average, but his aggressive approach from the get-go had the Celtics out and running, and especially in the early goings. By the midway point of the first quarter, he already had the Knicks back-peddling much more than they ever did in Game 1.
"I think I tried to attack in Game 1, just my layups were getting blocked and I didn't make a couple.," Rondo said. "But tonight I made them, I stayed aggressive, I tried to expose them because I don't think they did a great job getting back in transition."
While he wasn't busy watching Carmelo Anthony put on a legendary postseason performance (42 points and 17 rebounds) from court level, Rondo was controlling every other aspect of the game as the Celtics took a 2-0 series lead.
"I mean, that's a hard job, that point guard job," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "Especially when they're playing you to drive, they're trying to force you to shoot, and your most effective way is penetration through trees. It's just – it's hard."
Rondo had 14 of his 30 points in the first quarter alone and managed to tire himself out to the point where he actually had to ask for a breather late in the period, something he's rarely done. Rivers said he could see his point guard was "dying" out there while trying to get his team to run for the first eight minutes of the game.
"I just got tired in the first quarter, at like three minutes, I think it was like 3:59 actually, because like I said I was trying to push the pace and I got a little winded. I told Doc to give me a rest," Rondo said. "As soon as I was ready I came back in to start the second quarter, but after that my wind was fine. [Delonte] West came in and gave me a little breather off the ball. I'm comfortable playing the minutes I'm playing. It was just that first session was like a track meet."
With Chauncey Billups sitting out (leg strain), Rondo preyed on Toney Douglas and Anthony Carter, the latter of whom had no chance of keeping up with him. His 23 field goal attempts set a new career high (he's had 20 on four separate occasions, most recently against the Spurs in March) and despite taking several tough fouls, Rondo continued to force the issue and head for the hoop throughout his 42:07 of playing time.
Rondo's more known for gaudy assist numbers, and he'll turn down open layups in favor of handing out those dimes, but the Celtics wanted to run Tuesday night after slogging through their offensive sets in the first half of Game 1. Before Game 2, Doc Rivers told reporters that he wasn't concerned about getting stuck playing the Knicks' run-and-gun style that Mike D'Antoni champions. In fact, Rivers wanted to run to prevent the Knicks from sagging off Rondo and forcing him to take jumpers.
You'd have to imagine that message was more direct during yesterday's practice or tonight's pregame huddle, because Rondo made a point of pushing the pace from the opening tip.
"We talked about it, he did it. It was terrific," Doc Rivers said after the game. "We got away from it because they started scoring; they scored 26 points in the fourth quarter. But it was good to see he can do that, that he's going to do that. That was great."
The Celtics defense did its part to help Rondo get out on the break. The C's held the Knicks to just 33 percent shooting in the first half, and those stops allowed Rondo to create in transition. His teammates threw some excellent outlet passes, as the entire team had the running game on their mind. Even when the Celtics were inbounding the ball on the baseline or on the sideline after a violation, Rondo was pestering referees to hand him the basketball as soon as possible. When you have speed to burn, every split-second counts, and Rondo was fixated on getting the ball up court quickly.
Despite the hectic pace, the Celtics committed only 10 turnovers, and Rondo dealt just four. The C's threw some long outlet passes, and for once, it was Rondo on the receiving end of some easy buckets at the hoop as a result. While point guards are often compared to quarterbacks, Rondo (who was a high school QB himself) looked more like Deion Branch than Tom Brady at times, beating his man up the parquet and glancing over his shoulder awaiting the ball like he'd just dusted his defensive back at the line of scrimmage.
Rondo, like his coach, said that the team wasn't exactly happy with the win despite the 2-0 series lead heading into Madison Square Garden for Game 3. He pointed to rebounding as being a problem area again for Boston – they were destroyed on the offensive glass, 20-9 in Game 2 – and everyone seems to agree that there's better basketball ahead for the Celtics.
Rondo and company will get their chance to improve at MSG on Friday night.