At his best, Rajon Rondo can seize a rebound, dart away from
defenders, and set himself or an All-Star teammate up for a
Amare Stoudemire can shake a backboard with a powerful dunk, or
scare a spectator sitting courtside by forcefully blocking a shot
out of bounds.
He can’t right now, though.
Rondo is rolling and Stoudemire is sore, a big reason the Boston
Celtics will bring a 3-0 lead over the New York Knicks into Game 4
of their first-round series on Sunday.
The Celtics will be looking for their first sweep since beating
Indiana in three games in 1992, so long ago that it was Larry
Bird’s last playoff series victory.
After needing seven games just to get out of the first round in
both 2008 and ’09, they would welcome the chance to do something
easily for a change – especially with likely second-round opponent
Miami poised to finish a sweep of its series with Philadelphia.
”I’ve never been part of a sweep, but I don’t like to think
about that stuff. We don’t worry about that stuff,” forward Paul
Pierce said after practicing at Madison Square Garden. ”It’s about
getting better one game at a time. We want to close the series, but
they’re not going to give it to us.”
Rondo controlled the last two games, first with a surprising
scoring outburst, then with a Celtics playoff-record 20 assists
Friday in his sixth postseason triple-double. He is averaging 18.3
points, 12 assists and 8.0 rebounds, the type of all-around play
that led Boston to the NBA finals last season.
”He seems always to be at his top level. I’m not surprised by
what he does. I think the big thing as far as Rondo that I was
shocked about when I arrived to Boston was his knowledge of the
game, being so young,” center Jermaine O’Neal said. ”A lot of
that comes through his experience of playing, but he has the
ability to take over a game without scoring a lot of points. His
ability to direct the offense, direct defense, get guys involved,
it’s one of the best in the league, if not the best in the
Meanwhile, Stoudemire had trouble just moving around, and with
his aching back feeling worse Saturday, he said he won’t play
Sunday unless he feels better, adding he was below 50 percent in
Friday’s 113-96 loss.
”It’s tough, I mean it really is. My game is very explosive. I
love contact, I love to get to the basket, I love to draw fouls, I
love to dunk … that’s my style of play. And so with a bad back,
it’s kind of tough to play that way,” Stoudemire said. ”There are
adjustments to be made in order to be effective, but again, I don’t
want to get out there and further injure my injury, and so it all
depends on how I feel tomorrow and see if I can go.”
The Knicks will probably be without point guard Chauncey
Billups, who missed the last two games after straining his left
knee on a drive to the basket in the closing seconds of the
New York nearly won that game and Stoudemire said he felt
confident after scoring 28 points that the Knicks could win the
series. Then he hurt his back dunking during warmups before Game 2,
leaving Carmelo Anthony as the only healthy Knicks star, and that’s
not nearly enough against a Boston team with four All-Stars in its
Though he said ”life ain’t fair,” Anthony repeated that the
Knicks can’t use injuries as an excuse.
”We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. The Xs and Os go out the
window, and we’ve just got to play basketball,” Anthony said.
”We’ve got to fight. It’s a war, it’s a battle and the most
important thing is just how much pride we got. I don’t want to get
swept, we don’t want to get swept, but we’ve got to go out there
and just leave it all out there on the court and see what
Rondo missed a triple-double by one point and one rebound in the
opener, then scored a playoff career-high 30 points in Game 2
before finishing with 15 points and 11 rebounds Friday.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, while saying Rondo is a good player,
said the high assist total comes from Ray Allen and Pierce making
so many shots. Allen did the majority of his damage against rookie
Landry Fields, the second-round pick who was a reliable starter
during the regular season but has been overmatched against the
league’s career leader in 3-point shots.
Fields is averaging just two points on 25 percent shooting, but
D’Antoni said he would remain in the lineup Sunday after saying
Friday he would look at whether a change was necessary.
Pierce is averaging 25.3 points on 53 percent shooting, Allen
adding 24.7 and making 15 of 20 3-point attempts. The Celtics still
won’t have Shaquille O’Neal on Sunday, but have little to fear
since no NBA team has blown a 3-0 lead.
The Knicks are just trying to win a playoff game for the first
time in a decade, not thinking about winning four straight against
the defending conference champions.
”It doesn’t matter what the situation is,” D’Antoni said.
”We’ve got to play with more energy, more urgency, and get it
done. And we can do this. We can beat these guys and we’ve got to
believe that and just try to do it Sunday.”