What To Do About Rondo
The Boston Celtics lost to the Miami HEAT Wednesday, but during that contest Rajon Rondo submitted the sort of performance that exists outside of the sphere of results-driven memories. Miami got a triple from each of its four primary shooters for the fourth time this season, Mario Chalmers continued to add consistent and effective value as a third creator, LeBron James was a defensive marvel and Dwyane Wade beat Bostons trapping defense to seal the game in overtime, but its Rondos 44 points and 53 out of a possible 53 minutes that will be remember. Deservedly so.
In playing every minute of an overtime game, Rondo joined the ranks of James, Gilbert Arenas, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton and Nick Van Exel, while also topping his previous scoring high by nine and coming one overturned-three away from a career-high in triples. Thats where the schematic questions about how to defend Rondo turn up.
Standard NBA operating procedure against Rondo has for years been to go underneath screeners in pick-and-rolls and generally give him a cushion of space in order to prevent him from easily beating the first level of defense and creating chaos. The defense keeps Rondo in front and all five defenders are able to gain a certain confidence in his location, but as a result of that sacrificed space, Rondo gets to calmly survey the floor and make comfortable passes. Or, if he so chooses, he can take a jumper.
In Game 2, Rondo took more of those jumpers from 12 feet and out than he had in any preceding game of his career, making four more (10) field-goals from that distance than he ever had before. While the makes were remarkable for someone who shoots just under 40 percent from mid-range note that most of Rondos jumpers are open due to the aforementioned defensive strategy, so the percentages dont quite compare with those of, say, James or Wade the mere fact that Rondo took so many speaks to the level of comfort he gained with Miamis defensive strategy.
Both Chalmers and Wade got hung up on some of Kevin Garnetts particular brand of sticky screens as they defended Rondo, and Rondo did hit some pull-up jumpers in transition, but more the most part the strategy seemed to be to give just enough of a cushion so that the defender could still attempt a recovery to contest a shot.
That much is important. Miami gives Rondo the space, but is never conceding a shot, as some might say. The ultimate goal is to contest every shot.
Its obvious that Rondo isnt going to shoot this well on jumpers off the dribble again. Nobody, not James, not Wade, not Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, will continue to hit 80 percent from that range no matter how open they are. The simple mathematical probability is highly against Rondo having a repeat performance in this series. That shouldnt be a concern.
Confidence plays a big role in shooting, though, and while Rondo wont keep hitting 80 percent, if he feels comfortable enough to step into each one of these looks and that translates into half of them going down, then it might be time to re-evaluate.
As Erik Spoelstra has said, options arent rolling in by the dozens.
I have no idea, Ill be honest, Spoelstra said. Weve tried almost everything with him, and the conventional wisdom of saying hes got to beat you over with the score, beat you with the jump shot, and beat you by not getting all the other guys going. They only had 15 assists. And you would never think that he would have that kind of monster game.
Spoelstra believes in the numbers, and because the numbers say that Rondo wont shoot the same again, it will take far more evidence of a new truth for him to abandon his current approach. Just as with the belief that earning open shots from efficient, probable areas of the court will yield the highest number of points over time, if you come into a game trying to push another team or specific player to shoot from your desired spots on the floor, one game of those shots falling doesnt put a tactic in the wrong.
If youll pardon the analogy, you can roll a seven as many times as you want in a row, but it doesnt make you more likely to do so the next time you pick up the dice.
Again, there is the human element in basketball, and Miami can push the chances of a Rondo miss further in their favor by simply contesting these shots better. Youll see a little more variety blitzing off the screen to push Rondo back, maybe a switch or two to throw him off but there already is more of that than you might think. Keeping Rondo under the 10 transition possessions or 11 attempts at the rim he had in Game 2 will help as well, since layups tend to give a shot of confidence to even the most broken jumpers.
It will come down to contesting shots, whether Chalmers and Wade can close the gap quickly enough to make that cushion a little less inviting, because in the end, mid-range jumpers are the shots Miami wants Boston to be taking, whether its Rondo, Garnett or Paul Pierce doing the shooting. A shot Rondo takes dribbling off a screen is a pass to an open teammate that never happened and a shot in the paint that never sucked in any help defenders. Bostons offense was always going to thrive on the mid-range or succumb to its own inefficiency.
We just didnt expect Rondo to be the one thriving. Yet surprising as it was, shock value alone doesnt prove a strategy wrong. The Heat can play better defense than they did in Game 2, but Rondo has yet to prescribe that defense dramatic change.
It takes more than a hot streak to bring down the house.
Statistical support for this article provided by Synergy Sports and NBA.com