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Celtics now go where Rondo takes them

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Forget about Boston's Big Three. Rajon Rondo was the driving force that propelled the Celtics' thoroughly convincing 104-86 win in the Cavaliers' corner of the world, and evened their series at one-all.

For sure, Ray Allen scooted, popped, curled and re-curled his way around a maze of screens as though his legs were 10 years younger than the rest of his body parts. And his quick release certainly hasn’t aged — 8 of 15, 22 points. Although Anthony Parker did an excellent job of making Allen work hard to get good looks, the wily veteran’s perpetual motions eventually wore out his young opponent.

But even when they won the championship two seasons ago, the Celtics were never Allen’s team. For him to be effective, Allen always needs his big men to set sturdy screens and his point guard to deliver the ball to his right hand at exactly the precise time when his off-the-ball activities have gained him a step (or even a half-step) on whoever was guarding him.

Kevin Garnett had an up-and-down game — 8 for 21, 10 rebounds, 18 points — scoring seven of his points after catching three lobs passes when his defender, J.J. Hickson or Antawn Jamison, foolishly tried to either front him or three-quarter him on the wrong side. Otherwise, KG missed four layups (with two of them getting blocked), had the ball slapped out of his hands while he was trying to figure out what his next move would be, was consistently late on his defensive rotations, and failed to latch on to a pass from Rondo that hit him in his hands.

But the Celtics were never really Garnett’s team. For sure, he always screamed the loudest, and was the team leader in self-aggrandizing chest-thumpings, yet the Big Ticket rarely played well down the stretch of important games — a situation that was/is well known around the league.

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In fact, it used to be that Paul Pierce was the Celtics' main man. When the chips were down, it was PP who got the ball at the top of the key and, more often than not, scored the points that were absolutely de rigueur for Boston to win the game at hand. He could dance around an opponent, or if necessary, simply bully his way through him.

But these days, Pierce is more of an auxiliary scorer — 4 for 10, 14 points. Against the Cavs, Pierce only drove into the paint when a defensive switch removed LeBron James from his face. Indeed, in a crucial late-game possession, Pierce went one-on-one with LBJ at his favorite spot — straight away and a step beyond the arc — but no matter how much he tried to dance and to bully LeBron, PP couldn’t even get a shot away and the Celtics were tooted for a shot-clock violation.

However, Pierce was still an important factor in Boston’s victory because of his defensive anticipation.

Otherwise, Kendrick Perkins did what he’s supposed to do: set monstrous screens, hit a couple of jump hooks when he gets the ball in the low post, rebound, and play physical defense against his opposite number. Credit Perkins’ diligence for frequently making Shaq look like a stumblebum.

Tony Allen played quick-handed defense — two steals, one block. Glen Davis ran the court.

And Rasheed Wallace came out of a time machine to score 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Wallace hasn’t played this well since Karl Malone injured himself and he was defended by Luke Walton as Detroit closed out the Lakers in the latter games of the 2004 championship series.
Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo put on a passing clinic in Cleveland, tying a Celtics playoff record with 19 assists.
Gregory Shamus


Still, there’s no question that the Celtics' leading man and best player is Rondo — 5 for 10, 19 assists, 13 points. For sure, Rondo can sometimes play too fast and try to force the issue, hence his six turnovers. Plus, his jumper continues to be unreliable. But his speed and quickness are explosive, he’s extremely creative when he’s challenged after zipping into the lane, and his court awareness seems to expand game by game.

If he’s not exactly a lock-down defender, his lightning reflexes and uncanny anticipation make him a constant pest. As Rondo goes, so go the Celtics.

And what about the Cavs?

LeBron may not want to talk about his painful elbow — and to his credit he refuses to make any excuses — but he’s obviously hurting. In both games of the series, LBJ didn’t approach the rim with force until after the intermissions.

Nearly every aspect of his game was painful to watch in Game 2: his long-distance gunning (0 of 4 from beyond the arc), his ball-handling (4 assists and 5 turnovers),and even his free-throw shooting (10 of 15). Actually, LeBron’s defense was better than his offense. To wit, his chase-down block of Tony Allen’s breakaway layup and his stifling of Pierce.

But, in his diminished capacity, LeBron didn’t get the help he so desperately needed from his teammates.

Jamison scored a few impressive hoops — 6 of 11, 16 points — yet was only a furtive presence on offense and a chump on defense.

Shaq moved as though he weighed 400 pounds. Anderson Varejao was out of control.

And who was that imposter wearing Mo Williams’ uniform?

Yes, the Cavs made a late 15-0 run that reduced their 21-point deficit to 10, but they never had a real chance to win.

That’s because Boston’s defense was too tight, the Cavs couldn’t hit from the perimeter (4 of 21 from bonus territory), their offense was too slow in unfolding, and their lethargic defense allowed the Celtics to shoot 51.3 percent.

It almost seemed as though, after their hard-fought, come-from-behind win in Game 1, the Cavs had little respect for the Celtics. All they had to do was to go through the motions and the visitors would eventually give up the ghost.

But now, after all the public huffing and puffing about LBJ and his sidekicks being invincible, the Cavs have to deal with all of the one-time Boston Garden ghosts and leprechauns that have migrated to the TD Garden.

This could very well become a series for the ages.
Tagged: Celtics, Cavaliers, Paul Pierce, Antawn Jamison, Ray Allen, LeBron James, Mo Williams, Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo

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