Rondo just wasn't himself
The spectacular playmaker of the postseason was kept in check by L.A.
LOS ANGELES -- The numbers aren't bad. Thirteen points, eight assists, six rebounds. On most nights, Rajon Rondo would probably take those numbers -- and take his chances.
But those numbers were submitted Thursday after a certifiable spanking administered by the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a 102-89 Los Angeles victory. And anyone who watched the Lakers' thorough conquest of the Boston Celtics knows that Rondo was, well, not the Rondo the Celtics need to win this series.
Three of his points came in the second half, when the Lakers effectively put the game one away. So did half of his assists and two of his rebounds. And the guy who was third in the playoffs in steals came up empty-handed in that department. That has happened only once before in the 2010 playoffs -- the Celtics' Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers.
There has been an almost universal (and justifiable) slobbering over the way Rondo has played this season. He made the Eastern Conference All-Star team and was named to the first All-Defensive team. He was generally seen as the Celtics' most important, if not best, player over 82 games. He is the possessor of a five-year, $55 million contract that kicks in next season. He is now in the discussion when the topic "elite point guards" is raised at any water cooler.
The plaudits carried over to the postseason. He was the best player on the floor in the Celtics' series with the Cavaliers. ("He's dominating the series,'' LeBron James said after Rondo went for the unthinkable line of 29 points, 13 assists and 18 rebounds in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.) He wore out Jameer Nelson as the Celtics won the first three games of the conference finals against Orlando. And in pretty much every pre-Finals breakdown, aside from the one in the Derek Fisher house, the Celtics were deemed to have the advantage at point guard.
But the Lakers had the Celtics on their heels much of the night and while the real story of Game 1 was L.A.'s bludgeoning of Boston on the glass, there also was the alarming lack of cohesion on offense. Fairly or unfairly, that starts with the point guard.
The Celtics shot a wretched 43.3 percent. They managed a meager 19 assists, or the same number Rondo himself had in Game 2 against the Cavs. Their 41 first-half points matched their lowest scoring first half of the playoffs. But on the previous two occasions in which they had a 41-point first half, they won (Game 1 vs. Miami and Game 1 vs. Orlando). That's because they actually played defense in those games.
Oh, and the Celtics spurted to a grand total of five fast-break points, two in the first three quarters.
"I don't think we had a lot of fast-break points,'' Rondo said. He was spot on in that assessment. "They did a great job getting back on the fast break. It seemed like every time we took the ball out of the net."
The Lakers shot 53 percent over the first three quarters of the game, which is to say, The Game. They expanded a nine-point halftime lead to 20 in the third and that was it for the night.
Rondo was guarded by Kobe Bryant out of the gate. While that was not unanticipated, it may help explain why the offense became a little unhinged. There was no flow. Everyone was in a hurry. And you had to think that if Steve Nash was watching the game, he must have run out of footwear to throw at his big screen HDTV. The Suns averaged 109.3 points against the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
"I thought he did a terrific job,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Bryant's defense on Rondo. "I thought we fell back into trying to score on him instead of just running the offense. I thought we didn't move the ball. We didn't trust it enough. But Rondo has seen that. That's nothing new."
Said Kobe: "It was pretty much what we expected. Just try to keep him out of the lane as much as possible."
On the few occasions that Rondo did manage to squirm free for one of his trademark penetrations, the Lakers' behemoths were there to greet him. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and even Lamar Kardashian, er, Odom, can make a player think twice about attacking the rim.
They made Rondo think a lot.
"They did a good job of collapsing when I did get inside,'' Rondo said. "They're very long. Fish is very clever. He took a charge on me one time. They did a great job of mixing it up. I've got to sometimes attack, make the refs make the call and other times get it out to our shooters."
Sounds like a plan for Game 2. But that probably also was the plan for Game 1 -- and it didn't quite go as the team drew it up.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.