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Death By Pick And Roll

Before the Eastern Conference Finals began, I wrote that if the Celtics happened to rip their way through Miami and into the NBA Finals, the aftermath would be Rajon Rondo’s elevation into a superstar’s stratosphere, transforming him into the rarest of rare basketball commodities. Superstars appear as the NBA’s own illuminati, secretly running operations, dictating where they play, and existing as consistent beneficiaries to preferential treatment by both league officials and members of the media.

If Boston wins—with two of the Big 3 badly hurt and Kevin Garnett running on fumes in every fourth quarter—there would be no more trade rumors. If these Celtics made it to the NBA Finals it’d be tough to tag anybody else with the “Best Point Guard Alive” label, Chris Paul included.

So far Rondo has been a revelation, most notably in his historical Game 2 box score no critic will soon forget. But iconic stage performances like that one are lauded for the very reason that they’re few and far between. We’ll probably never see something so brilliant from Rondo ever again (if we do, there’s very little doubt he’s making the Hall of Fame); for the most part, it’s unrepeatable.

But one part of his game has forced Erik Spoelstra’s head to explode in every film session and every time out. With no rim protectors or able bodies down low (save for LeBron James, who played 11 fourth quarter minutes at the center position in Game 3, but fearing foul trouble isn’t willing to take on penetrators in the customary way a 6’11” shot blocker might), Rondo is transcending how effective one player can be in the side pick and roll. He’s too fast to be blitzed and too smart to be trapped. When the Heat switch, he licks his chops and either charges at the basket or dumps it into a mismatch.

During the regular season, nearly a third of Rondo’s shot attempts came as the ball handler in pick and roll situations. He shot 40.6%, per Synergy. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s shooting nearly 70% in the Eastern Conference Finals, but only 36.4% in the previous two rounds. As you can see from this play against the Sixers, when Rondo tried attacking the lane in the Semifinals he often ran into a gargantuan wall of  flesh, lessening his efficiency with a difficult floater.

Then you look at what he did in Game 3, and it’s just…strange. Look at this play in particular.

As Rondo drives the lane, why is Udonis Haslem bothered by the possibility of a kick back pass? Sure it’s Garnett who’d be on the receiving end, but A) Garnett had done all his previous work in the paint and Miami’s defense should’ve welcomed a jumper, B) the Heat switched, so James was already in position to contest Garnett on the perimeter should Rondo have thrown it out there, and C) Mario Chalmers and James Jones are despicable help defenders.

Stopping Rondo from scoring is the number one adjustment Miami’s coaching staff needs to make if they want to win the series, but I’m not sure they can. Some things you simply can’t answer for—whether it be due to a lack of capable personnel or one player hitting a level of unforeseen supremacy—and right now Rondo is ripping Miami’s heart out. If the Heat can’t concoct a scheme to somehow get the ball out of his hands in the face of a screen (as the Celtics have done to Dwyane Wade), this series could go a lot longer than it looked like it would on Thursday morning. And Rondo just might come out of this whole thing a transfigured individual; an honest to goodness true superstar.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • CelticsBIG3

    Another piece of fine writing. The calls Rondo is getting and his relative efficiency at the free throw line (yes I said it!) are transcending him into superstardom as he is so well deserved of.

  • Sean

    I actually was saying the same thing a few weeks ago, that in order to get through the Heat, Rondo is going to have to notch it up to another level, and STAY there for the whole series. Ditto for winning the title.

    And that's necessarily superstar status… performing well, consistently, when the stakes are highest.

    I still would say that his jumper needs to be consistent for it to happen though. For Wednesday night to not be an aberration but a revelation.

    That's all. Good post. Would like to see more video breakdown!

  • greenboner

    i hope noone thinks the officiating will stay fair.game 7 is in miami,so barring a boycott the nba movement to keep it honest im worried.

    • CelticsBIG3

      you can always take game 4 and steal game 5. its all possible

  • Zee

    Undonis Haslem was thinking he would intercept a pass. That's why he got faked out. It's the only logical explanation.

    Secondly, the reason Rondo is playing so good in this series is because he has a chip on his shoulder with the Miami Heat. Do you think he has forgotten about last year? Do you think he has forgotten about the questionable play that could've possibly ended his career? Also, no other team has been said to be able to stop us other than the Miami Heat. Rondo hears all of that.

    Rondo is a champion at heart and has the skills to back it up. The same goes for all of the Celtics team. People thought because we "struggled" with Philly that Miami would pounce us. Here's the difference… WE LET PHILLY HAVE A CHANCE. I've been a Celtics fan long enough to know that this team absolutely thrives off of the big stage. They LOVE a challenge. The LOVE to be counted out. It gives them motivation.

    We cruise with teams we know we can beat, and sometimes it bites us in the ankle. But when it comes to teams like the Miami Heat… We're licking our chops!

    • Sean

      But we also lose sometimes.

      Not to be a debbie downer. More to add some perspective. We give a fight. That's what it amounts to.

  • skeeds

    Excellent article yet again mr Pina!

    What will cement Rondo to superstardom, hopefully next year for good, is a capable finisher at the rim. Going against strong opposing frontlines he has less success, because no one really rolls to the basket with him. Bass and KG 90% of the time pop. If Ainge manages to grab a decent offensive center, like Lopez, or a strong PF like Smith, the effects will be similar to the effects of pairing Nash and Stoudemire. No one ever really managed to solve the "top playmaker + good finisher" problem.

  • jon

    Haslem was bothered because A) its just basketball instincts when you face rondo. Rondo does so many fancy passes its hard not to go for the fake. B) Lebron was in foul trouble and garnett was his man so if lebron were to have fouled garnett, Lebron would have been out for a few crucial minutes. C) Garnett can shoot over Lebron any day and Garnett can hit perimeter jump shots.

    • Rav

      Yeah, we can't really fault Haslem there – almost every big in the NBA has been faked out by that Rondo move at least once.

      • Greg Allan

        It faked me out from the other side of the planet.

        The intercept at half court was more amazing however. Rondo is an astonishing athlete.

  • ElRoz

    Hope the Celtics can win game 4 at home…tie it at 2-2!

  • janos

    HI Micheals, is Janos
    To my opinon, Rondos already superstars;elite levels and he win you too if watch him fulltime, you will believe to him.

    I am little bit sad right now, I watch again today morning 30 on 30 show, VLade Divacs and Drazen Petrovic. Is very emotion show for me.

  • Batman

    Time moves so quickly……Rondo already a superstar
    Has Rondo finally murdered Rojan Rando?

    • someguyinsac

      We can only hope that it's happened, we don't need no stinking Rojan showing up again anytime soon.

  • CelticsBIG3

    If you want to get sentimental and get PUMPED up, and got an hour and twenty minutes on your hands, I just watched this. Laughing, crying, loving, and getting jacked up because as we know, anything is possible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69pIAujrlOs

    • Tudor

      Thank you for this, now I'm ready for Game 4

  • Jen

    Congrats on the win Friday. Im hoping the Heat pull it out tonight, but the Celtics really leave everything out on the court. The Celtics defense really gave us fits.

  • pilgrimtraveller

    assuming rondo keeps playing near this level, he is the series MVP–win or lose. not that he will be given the MVP if the celtics should lose (meaning: get jobbed again by the refs), but he will have been the MVP. he is the best player on the court in this series. lebron is incredibly gifted, but rondo has been better and has made his teammates better than they would have been without him, which no one on the heat has done for that team.

  • pingpong777

    1 – 100% guarantee that rondo will pull out another obscene game in this series, i'm thinking a triple double with 30+ points, or 20+ assists; some sort of a 3×2 where one of the totals would be a crazy big game on its own.

    2 – the series will definitely go 7. i can't see the refs allowing the celtics to win 4 straight. there's definitely going to be at least 1 more game in the series where the heat shoot 30+ more free throws or something. i'm guessing the celtics will tie it 2-2 and the refs will steal game 5 or 6 and game 7 will be left for meritocracy.

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