FOX Sports Exclusive
Rondo is real reason Celtics win Game 2
Phil Jackson would have you believe that his team has squandered homecourt advantage on account of the referees calls, which he alternately described as “unusual” and “dubious.”
Jackson was just being Jackson. He’s rich enough that the prospect of a David Stern fine isn’t much of a deterrent. From game to game, he’ll use the interview room to press whatever political advantage he can. Still, he knows what – or, more accurately, who – cost his team homecourt: Rajon Rondo.
“Second half,” he said. “Rondo had some key plays there that changed the course of the game.”
Maybe the Finals, though I still think it goes seven games. The Celtics' 103-94 Game 2 win will be remembered for Rondo’s triple-double, the fifth of his playoff career: 19 points, 10 assists, and – the astounding number - 12 rebounds. That’s more than any of the seven-footers on either team. Kevin Garnett, absent on the glass for two games now, had four. The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – both of whom played well - combined for 14.
“Rondo controlled the game,” said Gasol. “The top rebounder was a point guard so that tells you something. It’s something we’ve got to look into and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
As the series now heads to Boston, you wonder what, exactly, that something could be. Just as the Lakers have a natural advantage with the size of their front line, the Celtics have one with their point guard, who is listed as six-one, 186 pounds.
Merely describing his game as a triple-double doesn’t do it justice. With 5:58 remaining, he returned to the floor, the Celtics down three after Kobe Bryant converted a three-point play. You can imagine how that one felt in the Staples Center. The shift in momentum was unmistakable, and I thought, inexorable. This is what home teams do, especially in the postseason.
Apparently, Rajon Rondo never got that memo. In less than a minute, he had scored twice driving to the basket. At 3:20, he drove again for a bucket. And at 1:50, he hit a 20-foot jumper.
A 20-footer shouldn’t be such big news. But the jump shot is among the few skills at which Rondo is not terribly proficient. He worked on his jumper all summer with a great shooter, Mark Price. But such greatness has been slow to rub off.
To say that Kobe Bryant has been guarding Rondo is only partially true. Bryant guards him vigorously – but only when he goes into the lane. The strategy was apparent from the first quarter: let Rondo beat you from the outside. Or rather, let him try. It seemed smart enough. Rondo missed a couple wide open early on. Bryant didn’t run out at him.
And again, with the game in the balance, Bryant – who picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth and had to be cautious – didn’t even bother. Rondo found himself wide open on the elbow.
Were you surprised? I asked him.
“No,” he said plainly. “I’m going to be given that shot the entire Finals. It was a close game. I knew it was coming to me.”
“He made the big shot…the elbow shot,” said Doc Rivers. “I’m thinking, Mark Price is somewhere celebrating. He took a million of those shots this summer, and he didn’t hesitate, and that was my favorite for him.”
Still, Rondo’s best moments might have come on the defensive end. With 2:14 left, Derek Fisher attempted a 3-pointer, just the kind of clutch shot he has made so many of during the course of his career. Not this time, though. This time, Rondo came from behind and blocked it cleanly.
Finally, with 39.8 seconds on the clock, Rondo snuck behind Bryant and poked the ball loose.
I am remiss in not having already mentioned that Ray Allen had a great game Sunday night. His eight 3-pointers broke the Finals record of seven (previously held by Kenny Smith, Scottie Pippen and Allen himself). Seven of those came in the first half – another record. But again, much of the credit goes to Rondo, who tallied assists on six of those seven shots.
Allen was less likely to go 7 for 8 in a half with Bryant checking him. Problem was, Bryant was guarding Rondo.
“Teams have done it all year,” said Rivers. “It’s nothing new putting a big guy on Rondo and a smaller guy on Ray.”
It seems like a fine strategy – until they start hitting jumpers.
Then it looks dubious.