Rajon Rondo stands witness to Big Three

By Ron Borges | Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | http://www.bostonherald.com |

CLEVELAND – While Cleveland spent two days trying to figure out how to stop Rajon Rondo [stats], Doc Rivers came up with an old-fashioned way to stop the Cavaliers last night. He let the Big Three do it.

For 48 hours, speculation in Cleveland was that the Cavs would put LeBron James on Rondo to create a difficult matchup that might limit the Celtics

point guard’s speed advantage. At the least, it would inhibit Rondo’s rebounding, which killed the Cavs in Sunday’s Game 4.

So what did Rivers do in Game 5? He came up with one way to keep James off Rondo at Quicken Loans Arena. He kept his guy on the bench for a long stretch in the first half, a strategy that seemed to baffle the Cavaliers while enflaming the Big Three, who went on a personal 16-0 run in the second quarter that began the unraveling process.

Rondo eventually came off the bench and delivered a 16-point second half on 7-of-10 shooting with seven assists to top off a remarkable 120-88 rout that sent the Celts back home leading the series, 3-2. They can eliminate Cleveland tomorrow night.

While the Cavaliers fretted for two days about what to do with Rondo, the Celtics found a way to do without him in the first half by doing things the old-fashioned way during a stretch that saw them go from eight down (29-21) to eight up (37-29), a run entirely fueled by Paul Pierce [stats], Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

“Rondo was tired,” Rivers said. “You could see it. For whatever reason, he got tired early. After that I substituted by score. The lead was increasing. If Tony Allen didn’t get tired, Rondo would have sat a couple more minutes.”

As Rondo sat, Allen and Garnett each scored six points while Pierce (who finally went off for 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists after struggling the first four games, and gave a suffocating effort on James) had four plus an assist. Their effort allowed the Celtics to take a 50-44 halftime lead, but you can only hold Rondo down so long.

The Cavs can’t hold him down at all, without an assist from Rivers.

After a scoreless first half, Rondo was let loose from the bench in the third quarter and torched the Cavs like it was Game 4 all over again, scoring 12 points with four assists, an explosion for which Cleveland again had no answer.

Not that they didn’t try to find one. They put Mo Williams on him. Bad idea. They put Anthony Parker on him. So-so idea. They put Delonte West on him. Not that it mattered. They put Daniel Gibson on him. Who?

They even put James on him a time or two, but when they did, Rondo just took him so far from the basket he was unable to rebound, thus allowing the Celtics to get a series of critical offensive boards that kept the Cavaliers on the defensive longer than they would have liked as their deficit swelled to 21, 73-52. The C’s finished with 23 second-chance points to Cleveland’s seven.

At that point, the Cavaliers seemed stunned. They were being beaten up by the Big Three and beaten down by the Little One. What do you do against such an attack?

Unravel, which is what the Cavs did as the crowd of 20,562 at first booed and finally grew stone silent. With five minutes left, there were more wine-colored seats visible than towel-waving fans. Or was that whine colored?

Before the game, Rivers predicted that in one of these games, both teams would play to their optimum and one would triumph despite the other’s best effort. This was not that game, because while the Celts defense was dominating, the Cavs played at first as if they felt entitled to something because, after all, they had the best record in the regular season. And, they were armed with the best player in the league. Later, they played like a team that couldn’t care less about the embarrassment being thrust in their faces.

James might be the best player in basketball, but witness this: He didn’t do any more with Rondo than anyone else, and he didn’t lift his team once the Celts began to squeeze the life out of it. His 15 points were topped by all of the Big Three as well as the Little One, and for the final few minutes, he sat where Rondo had been much of the first half, on the bench.

Maybe instead of publicly volunteering to play Rondo, he should have been more concerned with playing his own game, especially during a stretch when the Cavs didn’t score for nearly six minutes. Then again, even if he had, what would it have mattered?
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/columnists/view.bg?articleid=1254218

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