Heat had no answer for Rajon Rondo
MIAMI -- The point guard was clairvoyant. Rajon Rondo doesn't talk much, but he sees plenty.
Before the Miami Heat suffered another big-time, big-game meltdown against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, before Rondo dropped 16 assists on the star-studded (and noticeably sagging) South Beach caravan, before he spurred his team on to 60 percent shooting in the first half, he calmly predicted Miami would have no answers for him. He also hypothesized they would make a concerted effort to squelch his creative juices by throwing a variety of defenders his way, including the one Rondo feared most -- LeBron James, the 260-pound power forward.
"He's like Kobe,'' Rondo explained before the sufficiently hyped Celtics-Heat rematch that Boston won 112-107 at American Airlines Arena. "He can give me space and still challenge my shot because of his incredible wing span.
"But if they put LeBron on me, who guards Paul? Who guards Ray?"
Clearly, the answer was no one. The Heat did intermittently shift LeBron on to Rondo in the first half, which meant Pierce was left to gleefully feast on post-up opportunities against Dwyane Wade, Jerry Stackhouse and, later, old friend Eddie House. It should come as no surprise Pierce finished with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
Allen, meanwhile, was free to roam the baseline, curling off screens with the precision of a sniper who will one day soon become the most productive 3-point shooter of all time. Allen submitted 35 points, matching the total of LeBron. And yet, Allen's baskets came within the framework of a flowing, multiple-pass offense.
The King? Lots of shots, lots of free throws, lots of new explanations for why his big three continues to play so very small.
The point guard and his trio shredded Miami's defense with proper spacing, the extra pass and a second sense that has been a long time in coming.
"Rondo and I have a rhythm now,'' Allen said. "We didn't have it before. He knows exactly where he's supposed to be. He knows exactly where I want the ball.
"We've got scorers everywhere. We've got shooters, and when Shaq's in the post, we've got a low-post threat.
"He's got four outlets for assists. And when he makes a sharp cut with the ball, someone's got to come over to help because he's just so quick, he blows past his guy. So when someone comes over to help, that means one of us is open.''
Allen paused to consider this.
"It's scary,'' he concluded.
The progression of the point guard was not without glitches. Rondo was stubborn, independent, uneven in his commitment to team. He resented the attention Boston's big three generated. He was an addendum to the 2008 championship, not the catalyst, and that bothered him deeply.
But so much has changed. He added listening to his skill set. He added bulk to his slender frame. He added credence to his perimeter jump shot. Thursday evening, when the Heat began the night by sagging off him, Rondo drilled a 14-footer in their face.
During one stretch in the second quarter, when Miami tried to shoot its way back into contention with jump shots, Boston buried them with textbook transition basketball. There was Rondo, pushing the ball and hitting Ray with a blind pass to his favorite spot in the corner for a 3. There was Rondo again, deking, then passing to Kevin Garnett as the trailer on the break. There was Rondo, hiding the ball, then drilling KG with a bounce pass in transition for a three-point play.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers pointed out a subtle shift that has occurred with his club. These days, it's rare for anyone but Rondo to bring the ball up the floor.
"Last year, or even the year before they would just get a rebound and throw it to the nearest guy,'' Rivers said. "We're telling everyone to get the ball to Rondo and let him do what he does. The trust they have in him is unbelievable.''
The point guard is amused at how quickly his stock has risen. People actually seem disappointed now when he dishes out only 10 assists a night.
[Rajon] Rondo is as a unique a point guard as has been in this league for a long time. You are talking about the best passer, arguably, in the game.” -- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra
"It's sad,'' Rondo said. "People expect 15 assists every night. It's not going to happen. They say, I 'only' had 10 assists. Ten assists was great for me last year. It's great for me this year, too. The expectations, they're getting up there.''
He won't pretend he minds that, because he doesn't. He doesn't say much, but he believes plenty. This is, after all, the same player who declared last season that, in his mind, he was the best point guard in the league.
The comment seemed haughty at the time. It doesn't seem all that far fetched any longer.
"Rondo is as a unique a point guard as has been in this league for a long time,'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "He's so fast. He gets the overwhelming majority of his plays in random, unscripted situations. It's his creativity and speed that separates him. You are talking about the best passer, arguably, in the game.
"If you try to body up and play him at half court, you are playing with fire.''
The Miami coach was also clairvoyant. He made those comments before his team's demoralizing loss.
The ongoing debate regarding Miami's woes has been a pick-your-poison query: Is the lack of an inside defensive presence or the inability to control elite point guards the most glaring issue?
"I don't care,'' Rondo answered. "I can't relate.''
The Heat will get better. Their chemistry will develop and they have enough talent to become a legitimate threat. In the meantime, don't mind Rondo and the Celtics if they move on and start concentrating on teams that are ready to challenge them now.
The point guard sees what could be with this Celtics team. He knows they could win it all. And this time, his fingerprints will be all over it.
Jackie MacMullan, who has spent nearly 20 years as a beat writer and columnist in Boston, is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.
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