Commentary

Rondo off since hard foul on Miller

Rajon Rondo's relentless style seems diminished over his last three playoff games

Originally Published: May 6, 2009
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Rajon RondoBrian Babineau/Getty ImagesBoston guard Rajon Rondo seems less aggressive in the lane lately.

BOSTON -- As air balls go, this one probably had Ben Wallace and Josh Boone shaking their heads.

Standing still at the foul line from 15 feet away, Rondo launched the ball 14 feet forward and one foot to his left. It missed everything -- and missed by a lot.

Now, nobody is going to mistake Rondo (a 64 percent career free throw shooter) for Steve Nash, Jose Calderon or Calvin Murphy, but this air ball was still exceedingly out of character for Rondo, who has been out of character for three straight games now -- ever since he committed a hard foul against Brad Miller toward the end of Game 5 of Boston's first-round series against Chicago.

In Game 6 against Chicago, he was lucky not to be ejected after he tossed Kirk Hinrich into the scorer's table.

In Game 7, he shot 2-for-9 and scored only seven points.

And in Boston's Game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic, he nearly had a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, but he also turned the ball over seven times and was so nonaggressive as Boston was falling behind by 28 (neither he nor any of his teammates attempted a single free throw in the first half) that coach Doc Rivers called him over during a stoppage in play and implored him to get back to the fundamental strength that fuels his entire game: playing fast.

"One good thing about last night, and there was only one, is that once he started playing at that speed, he saw what it does," Rivers said Tuesday on the day off between Games 1 and 2. The series resumes Wednesday night at 8 p.m ET before shifting to Orlando for Games 3 and 4 Friday and Sunday. "And I thought he also showed more speed on defense. Coming into the series, No. 1 key was ball pressure, and we did it for the first time -- I actually wrote it down -- at 6:45 of the third quarter. And I was thinking -- 'What the heck?'"

"What the heck?" was pretty much the prevailing sentiment from everyone inside the new Garden when that air ball went up from the line early in the third quarter, and it drew quite the response from the crowd.

But rather than mock Rondo or groan at Rondo or boo Rondo, the crowd emitted a rumble that grew into what seemed like a collective cheer -- a cheer with an edge to it, a cheer that seemed to be telling its team "Wake up, fellas! C'mon!'

The Celtics rallied from there but got no closer than three points -- a comeback Rivers termed "a fool's gold run."

"Speed is power," said Rivers, who said Rondo's three-game body of work since the Miller foul -- a whack across the face that was reviewed by the league office for being borderline flagrant -- has been as "out of character" as he's seen Rondo since last season.

"He's a feisty dude, but there is feisty and there is over-the-top, and that [the toss of Hinrich] was a little out of character."

Rondo has shot 4-for-17, 2-for-9 and 2-for-12 (21 percent overall) in the three games since the Miller foul, and although he had 19 assists against zero turnovers in Boston's triple-overtime loss to Chicago in Game 6, Rivers was quick to discount it.

"That's because Ray Allen made every shot. That's what I used to call a Randy Wittman assist night for me," Rivers said. "I stood there, Randy popped open and made shots, and I got all the glory. So sometimes that can be misleading."

Rondo also had a mental miscue in Game 1 off an inbounds play following a basket when he let the ball roll to midcourt to keep the shot clock from starting (called "walking the dog" in NBA parlance) but did not notice Rafer Alston darting in to poke the ball away -- starting a scramble that ended with a wide-open 3 for Brian Scalabrine.

It was a play that typified why Rivers called the rally fool's gold. Yes, the Celtics got three points out of it. But they came about as close to running a controlled possession as Rondo came to the rim on that air ball.

"He has not had high energy or good body language," said Rivers, who disagreed with the notion that Rondo's three-game slump could be connected to the Miller foul, "but sometimes you have to fight your way through that, and I think he will."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.