Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen both had huge games on Sunday, and they did so primarily against the defenders the Lakers want guarding them—Kobe for Rondo, Fisher for Ray. But that doesn’t mean the Celtics love both of those match-ups, or that they should stop mixing things up in order to force switches and keep LA wondering what will come next.
One wrinkle we saw a couple of times early: Having Ray Allen set a high screen for Rondo to see how the Lakers react. Do they switch, giving the Celtics the Rondo/Fisher match-up LA clearly doesn’t love? Does Kobe just go under the screen and stick with Rajon? And if he does that, can the Celtics still muck things up enough to give Rondo an extra slice of space/time?
Here are examples from consecutive possessions in the 2nd quarter:
All sorts of goodness going on here.
The Celtics get into this set quickly, forcing the Lakers to decide early how they want to respond. Fisher makes the call by leaving Allen as Ray sets the screen and positioning himself to guard Rondo:
What happens is predictable: The C’s clear out the middle and let Rondo go to work:
The finish shows you both how good Rondo has gotten around the rim and how big an impact Andrew Bynum is having on this series. You see Gasol guarding Sheed on the left block. If Bynum is injured as he was in 2008, one of two things happens here: 1) Gasol helps on Rondo, leaving Wallace open for an easy look; or, 2) That is Odom, not Bynum, streaking down from the top of the key to contest Rondo’s shot. Either way, life would have been much easier on Boston with Bynum in street clothes. Having two capable seven footers is such a luxury.
The C’s go right back to the same play on the next possession, but the Lakers respond differently:
Fisher sticks right on Allen’s back, allowing Kobe to slide under both Fisher and Allen without drifting too far from Rondo:
This strategy works better, though you can see the Lakers are super-concerned with Allen zooming off his pick and into shooting position. Watch how Kobe lunges to his right as Ray cuts to that side of the floor, and then to his left as Ray circles to that side. He’s trying to at least convince Rondo that he’s a threat to jump the passing lane on any quick dish to Ray.
In any case, Kobe does a better job of staying in front of Rondo, and the possession dissolves into chaos. I think Phil Jackson is right that the Lakers are generally better off with Kobe on Rajon, and this possession shows you why. Kobe is a better fundamental defender than Fisher, he’s just as quick (probably quicker) and his length bothers Rondo in the paint.
One other way the C’s can try and spring Rajon: The Rugby Scrum! You all know I love the Scrum. We haven’t seen it as much in the playoffs as we did in the regular season, when the C’s broke this baby out between two and five times per game, but it made two appearances in Game 2. Here’s one:
This play presents so many possibilities when the C’s use two jump-shooting bigs to set the double screen, as they do here with Sheed and KG. It allows for simultaneous pick-and-pops, a Rondo drive or a forced switch of Rondo’s guy (Farmar in this case) onto one of the screeners.
Bynum sniffs the play out early:
Look at all that space between Bynum and Rondo! That’s a lot of time, at least in the basketball sense of time, for Bynum to prepare for what has to be a pretty terrifying-slash-exciting moment for a 7-footer: Holy crap, here comes Rondo, and I’m the team’s last hope!
And again, Bynum does a wonderful job of preventing a direct-to-the-hoop lay-in. Rondo has to stop and pull one of his patented fakes to score here. It works, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work next time.
Still: Fear The Rugby Scrum.
Finally, this clip doesn’t represent a new wrinkle; it’s just Rajon Rondo being awesome. In fact, if a casual fan (and at this point, the fan would have to be a really casual fan) asks you what all the fuss is about this Rondo kid who can’t shoot, you could really just show the fan this play:
That really epitomizes Rondo, doesn’t it? The rebound, the immediate decision to push the ball even though there’s no obvious fast-break chance, the ability to always know where Ray Allen is in transition—this is Rondo in a nutshell.
Again: He creates a fast break out of thin air on this play. Here’s what things look like when Rondo grabs the board:
I see three Lakers and four Celtics, meaning there are two Lakers off the screen, already retreating back on defense. And I see Rondo’s man, Jordan Farmar, between Rondo and mid-court, albeit just barely. Still: This is not a fast-break opportunity at this moment. Rondo creates a transition chance that did not exist by simply deciding to do so. He spins off of Farmar and sprints up the floor, blowing past Bynum and manufacturing a fast break.
Note the pass to Ray is off-line, forcing Ray to make a nifty catch before he gathers and shoots. Also note that it doesn’t even matter, because Ray’s guy (Shannon Brown) is at the freaking block/charge circle by the time the pass gets to Allen. He’s there to cut off Rondo and prevent a fast-break lay-up that should never have been available to Boston.
This is Balls to the Wall Rondo. This is the guy Boston needs to win the title. It is hard to play this way every game, with all the injuries and hard falls and the post-season minutes piling up.
Cross your fingers and hope this Rondo comes to play tonight.