Rajon Rondo put on a show for the ages today as he willed the Celtics to a hard fought victory against a Cavalier team that just would not go away. The series is now tied at two wins a piece.
On Friday night, 6’ 8” 250 lb. superstar LeBron James was unstoppable. Today, it was the diminutive 6’ 1” 186 lb. Rajon Rondo who could not be contained by an entire Cleveland team. Rondo had a triple double for the ages. The Celtics won 97-87.
Whether Cleveland played off of him or not, Rondo played the Cavs for everything his malicious mind, unrelenting electric energy, and sinewy body assaults could muster. I can confidently say that a better 46 minutes and 48 seconds of ruthless guile meted out by one so small has never been witnessed.
It could not be considered any but a spectacular performance by the acerbic assassin, a rising star on a team of Hall of Fame stars past their apex.
From Jimmy Toscano of Celticsblog.com…
“I told him in the back [trainer's room], that wasn’t just great — that was special,” said Pierce. “Few people in the league can put together a special performance. He’s starting to grow, starting to show that on a more consistent basis. When we need a game, he can win us a game and that’s what he did tonight.”
The inexhaustible Rajon Rondo has been more than the Celtics best player in this playoff series. He is, without question, the single biggest reason the Celtics are tied with the Cavaliers at this point.
Rondo led both teams in the three biggest categories with 29 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, yet managing to dish for 13 assists, while adding 2 steals for his 4th playoff triple double in a monster game. Larry Bird leads the Celtics with 10 playoff triple doubles.
Only two other players have achieved (at least) that many points, rebounds and assists combined in NBA playoff history. They were Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain, two of the biggest and most talented names the game has ever seen. Rajon Rondo adds his name to that most exclusive club.
While it’s been said that veteran teams win championships, the Celtics would not have won today without the young legs of Rondo, Tony Allen, and Glen Davis. It was the Celtics’ young turks who ignited the Celtics near the end of third quarter to a 12-0 burst through to the 8:40 mark of the 4th period to break away from a brief tie to an 84-72 lead.
Cleveland had one more run in them as they closed to 84-86 on a Anderson Verajeo lay up and foul shot with 4:34 left.
At that point, Tony Allen, who had come for the injured Ray Allen, and was making his presence felt at both ends of the floor, scored his 14th points on a lay up off a Kevin Garnett pass. He and Glen Davis were running the floor on fast breaks to start the 4th and were the recipients of Rondo passes for lay ups. The Cavs couldn’t keep up with them.
“I think it starts with Rondo. He’s kind of the engine that really gets them going,” (LeBron) James said. “He does everything for them. His performance was unbelievable.
Rondo was definitely the difference maker.”
It was an individual performance within the team’s system in a game that will be a playoff classic for many years. This game was a game of mini runs throughout. The Celtics didn’t grab a double digit lead until the second half, then quickly gave it up.
Rondo had a number of mind numbing highlight reel passes that broke down a terrific and tightly packed Cavalier defense that resulted in scores. Not one of his flashiest, but one of his best, was a drop pass while in the middle to a cutting Pierce for a dunk to make the score 90-85 with 2:21 left. It was nothing but nerves of steel and a genius pass to a struggling Paul Pierce for only his 7th points of the game.
Literally everywhere on the court in this contest, Rajon then grabs the offensive rebound in the paint on a Garnett miss on the Celtics’ next possession and lays it back in for his 27th points and a 92-85 lead with 1:21 left in the game.
After going into a 7-0 hole to start the game, the Celtics ran off the next 12 points and outscored Cleveland 31-15 over the rest of the 1st quarter.
LeBron James was held to a pedestrian 22 points on 7 of 18 shooting, but almost had a triple double himself with 9 rebounds and 8 assists, to go with 7 turnovers. Notably, James’ shot was blocked 3 times.
Kendrick Perkins led both teams with 4 blocks and concentrating on defense, took just 2 shots for zero points.
Ray Allen took 21 shots, making just 8 for 18 points, but otherwise being effective on both sides of the court, before leaving with an injured ankle after 38 minutes.
Kevin Garnett contributed 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting as well as 6 rebounds. He anchored the defense as the Celtics played the pick and roll very well
Paul Pierce continued to struggle, mightily at times, and shot just 3 of 8 while looking out of sync offensively out there. Unlike 2008, guarding LeBron James and scoring efficiently at the same time may be asking too much of the aging captain now. Either that, or his shoulder is bothering him, or he has some other injury that is being kept under wraps at the moment. Clearly, Pierce is not himself.
Tony Allen scored 15 points in 25 plus minutes on 6 of 7 shooting, while grabbing 5 rebounds, 2 steals, an assist, and a blocked shot. All the while he brought tremendous energy at both ends of the floor.
Jimmy Toscano of Celticsblog.com…
“Tony Allen may have been the biggest reason we won after Rondo,” Rivers said. “He was just attacking. Our saying with Tony is, ‘Don’t let him off the hook,’ meaning, don’t bail him out with a jump shot. Take it to the basket- that’s who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with being that.”
Rasheed Wallace scored but three points but played very well otherwise, with the Celtics outplaying the Cavaliers by 12 points with him in there. He even dove on the floor for a loose ball once. Yes, really. I mean that. ‘Sheed grabbed 3 rebounds and was active with 2 steals and 2 blocks, while playing solid defense in his 19 plus minutes.
Jimmy Toscano of Celticsblog.com…
“We’re going to win this series because Rasheed plays defense,” Rivers said. “And that’s what he did today. You look at his line and he was 0-3; he only had three rebounds. But he was deflecting, blocking shots, clogging the lane, fouling hard. That’s what we needed from him, and it was great to see.”
Glen Davis garnered 18 plus minutes, going 2 of 3, with a steal and a block. He was an active defender, enthusiastic screen setter at the offensive end, and grabbed 3 boards with a steal and a block.
It was a game you can point to, if Rondo continues his ascent to superstardom, as a big step on the way in that actualization.
Cleveland played a very tough and poised game under terrific pressure from the Celtics and Rondo. They almost stole it out from under the Celtics, in spite of Rondo’s assault.
If this were a prize fight, each contender has alternately absorbed standing 8 counts with huge losses at home. Both have sealed off serious bleeding and they have now steadied themselves and exchanged flurries. With Rondo landing an insane amount of jabs, the Celtics won the latest round on points. The series moves back to Cleveland for the next round – game 5.