Rajon Rondo was quick to dismiss his 44 point, 10 assist, eight rebound and three steal effort in his team’s 115-111 overtime loss to the Miami Heat.
“We lost. Simple as that.”
Rondo can dismiss the effort because of the sting of the loss and knowing that a tied series was within reach.
The Miami Heat can’t put that one behind them. They can appreciate the fact that they managed to steal a game 2 win despite missing 16 free throws, giving up the third most amount of points to an opponent in playoff franchise history and making some crucial miscues late in the fourth. However, they also have to take notice that this is a series and the team they’re facing is tough as nails mentally and physically.
We weren’t going to see the Celtics from game 1 in Wednesday’s game. Boston wasn’t about to go down like that. A team consisting of former Finals MVP, a former MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and the best three-point shooter in NBA history wasn’t going to lay down and die. Those three are champions because they’re competitors that laugh in the face of adversity.
The Celtics were going to fight hard in game 2 because that’s just who they are and why they’re still a championship contender despite having a three-man core with each player being at 35-years-old. Of course, those 35-year-old’s were assisted by arguably the league’s top facilitator, who also happened to be the key reason why this was a game in the first place.
Rondo has long been a thorn in the Heat’s side. It seems that no matter who is guarding him, whether it’s Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, he always seems capable of being able to do whatever he pleases against the Heat’s defense. The problem is that the Heat make it too easy for Rondo to do what he does best.
The Heat’s idea of guarding Rondo is not guarding him. Recognizing that his jump shot is wildly inconsistent, Heat defenders will give Rondo about five feet of space at the top of the perimeter. Even though you’re attempting to limit the drives of Rondo and daring him to shoot, you’re also allowing him to create a play by not applying any sort of pressure.
He’s not being rushed at all. The Heat defender will back off of Rondo until he’s set to drive, but don’t realize that they’re also either giving up a wide open mid-range jumper or a designed play. If you’re not going to apply pressure, you’re giving him plenty of time to weigh his options and create a play because he has no concern over anybody attempting to steal the ball from him.
While Miami is also attempting to cut off his penetration and keep him out of the paint, they’re, once again, making it easy for Rondo to work. If he’s made a breakthrough and begins driving, numerous Heat defenders will then converge on him to limit his capability of scoring near the basket–something he is very capable of doing.
However, they also leave elite shooters wide-open in the process. Miami’s defense is a bit more complicated than it should be at times. Rather than each player honing in one defender, the Heat have a defense designed where all five players are working together and constantly rotating. Miami’s defense is sometimes prone to attempting too many double-teams for the purpose of creating turnovers.
However, by converging on Rondo, you’re buying into his tactic of leaving the original assignment. As inconsistent as guys like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have been, those two are still prolific shooters, especially when they’re being left wide open like in the case of Allen getting wide-open to nail the game tying three-pointer at the end of the fourth.
The open three came as a result of Dwyane Wade gambling for a steal and LeBron James rotating to the open man with the ball. However, leaving Ray Allen open for a three-pointer in order to defend a Keyon Dooling layup probably shouldn’t have been in the best interest for James, especially when the Heat still would have been up by one had Dooling made the shot.
Wade said it a few days ago how Rondo is “the head of the snake” and he is exactly right in saying so; the Celtics offense is clearly at its best when Rondo has the ball in his hands and running the show.
Therefore, the only solution is to put some amount of pressure on Rondo when he first enters the half-court. By doing so, you’ll force him to give up the ball earlier in the possession and force the Celtics to work more frantically because of the waning shot clock.
By leaving him open, you’re just allowing him to dictate the flow and pace of the game. The Heat want the game sped up and the Celtics want the game played in the half-court. When you allow Rondo to walk within 20 feet of the rim, while still giving him a few feet of space, you’re allowing him to do stop the game and slow it down to the pace he likes.
The Heat defense can’t run like that. They must be putting pressure on Rondo at all times, even if it means giving up a few of his drives. As long as he’s not building up his confidence by shooting 15-foot jumper after 15-foot jumper and slowing the game down to his pace, the Celtics won’t be allowed to get off easy scores for 48 minutes.
Boston will be tired for game 3, but that doesn’t mean they’re simply going to give up. If the Heat don’t apply pressure on Rondo, they’re going to continue allowing him to play comfortable and with little resistance on what he chooses to do. The Heat defense needs to make it a purpose to get the ball out of Rondo’s hands as much as possible.
Rondo will only go off for 44 points so many times in his career. However, missing 16 free throws and allowing players to boost their confidence by giving up wide-open jumpers is a death sentence for a team that wants to win a title.