Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo, reinvigorated
|04.25.11 at 1:07 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
I think everyone can agree we saw a different Rajon Rondo against the Knicks then we did in the last month-and-a-half of the regular season. Sure, he played the majority of his minutes against the likes of Toney Douglas and Anthony Carter, but still — it’s not like he’s going to be facing Chris Paul in the next round.
Rondo is the switch. The numbers illustrate as much, and I see no reason he can’t replicate his performance against Mario Chalmers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Rondo averaged 10.0 points on 40.9 percent shooting, 9.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 free-throw attempts in 21 regular-season games during March and April. Then, in the playoff sweep of the Knicks, he averaged 19.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting, 12.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 6.5 free-throw attempts. Essentially, without warning, he reverted to the player we saw when the Celtics started 23-4 before Christmas.
It’s not like the Big Three played that much better offensively against the Knicks than they had during the regular season in March and April. In fact, their field-goal percentage actually dropped from 50.2 percent in March and April to 49.4 percent against New York.
What really changed for the Big Three? As a result of Rondo’s ability to get into the paint whenever he wanted, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got far more open looks on the perimeter. They made a ridiculous 27-of-46 3-pointers (58.7%) — averaging 6.8 makes on 11.5 tries — in the Knicks series, as opposed to their 66-of-176 3-point shooting (37.5%) — 3.0 makes on 8.0 attempts per game — in the final 22 games of the regular season.
Can those two continue to shoot close to 60 percent from 3-point range? Probably not, but two of the game’s great shooters will keep getting more open looks as Rondo forces the Heat defense to sag on him in the paint. And if you think Dwyane Wade or LeBron James might take a shot at guarding Rondo, do you have any confidence that Chalmers or Mike Bibby or James Jones or whoever can keep up with Pierce and Allen?
The point is, if Rondo plays as he did in the first two months of the season or as he did against the Knicks — penetrating the paint while feeding Pierce and Allen on the perimeter — the Celtics not only have a good shot against the Heat, they have a great one.
In the C’s two commanding wins over Miami in the first nine games of the season, Rondo averaged 16.5 assists while Pierce and Allen made 16-of-29 3-pointers (an average of 8.0-of-14.5, or 55.2 percent). In their last two meetings — a last-minute C’s home win and a blowout loss on the road — Rondo averaged 7.5 assists while Pierce and Allen shot 7-of-21 from 3-point range (an average of 3.5-of-10.5, or 33.3 percent).
Now, with what you saw against the Knicks and with another week of rest, do you expect Rondo to be the guy in need of a mental and physical break who totaled five assists in the 90-77 loss to the Heat in his final game of the regular season? Or the physically and mentally rested guy who dished out 17 assists in an 88-80 win to start the regular season?
RAJON RONDO, REVISITED
From Madison Square Garden, Paul Flannery also covered the resurgence of Rajon Rondo, especially in the wake of Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni‘s moronic comments about the Celtics point guard. Here’s an appetizer before you enjoy Flannery’s entree:
The playoff version of Rondo has arrived with enough force to make everyone forget about the regular-season Rondo.
There’s an even simpler explanation for his late-season struggles. “It’s impossible for 82 games to do that,” Rondo said last week in a rare moment of candor.
Following Rondo’s Game 3 triple-double through three quarters, Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski also wrote about the Rondo riddle, including this important nugget:
As one NBA scout who has been monitoring the Celtics and Heat lately said, “I don’t buy this idea that the Heat — especially LeBron and Wade — have jelled together late in the year. To me, they’re still taking turns. LeBron goes, Wade goes. The difference is Wade is handling the ball late in games now, more so than LeBron. Their Big Three will play well, but my question is: What does Chalmers do against Boston? They look good right now against Philadelphia, but I’m not sold that they’ve grown as much as they want people to think they have.”
DOC RIVERS: ‘WE DIDN’T PLAY WELL FOR FOUR GAMES’
Anyone who watched Game 3 against the Knicks on Friday had to concede that if the Celtics can capture in a bottle what they did in that 113-96 victory in New York, they can compete for an NBA title. The problem, just as it has been all season — as Doc Rivers pointed out in a piece on NBA.com — is finding that consistency:
“What you saw is how our season went at times. We are playing well … we are playing well, and then we go away from it for awhile. Fortunately, we came back to it. …
“We didn’t play well for four games. But we did play well Game 3 and we did play well in Game 4. We kind of figured out what we needed to do offensively and defensively, and we stuck to the game plans. …
“We do some things that drive us all nuts, but at the end of the day, they have a way to play together. They trust each other, and as a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”
The greatest reward for the Celtics in sweeping the Knicks is at least a week full of rest and practice in order to continue their search for that consistency.
HEAT ALREADY LOOKING TOWARD CELTICS
Admittedly, in this very blog, I’ve already looked past the 76ers for the Heat, but that doesn’t mean Dwyane Wade & Co. should be doing it. Then again, this is the same team that essentially held a parade for themselves before ever playing a game together. Here’s what Wade told ESPN.com even before his team lost to Philadelphia in Game 4:
“It wouldn’t be right if Miami and Boston didn’t meet in the playoffs. I think everyone was expecting that anyway. … They’re the big brothers of the Eastern Conference and you’ve got to take them down. You’ve got to show the big brother that you’re good, too.”