Sounds easy enough – Don’t let Rajon Rondo drive into the paint. Just focus all your defensive energy on that, and you’ll be fine right? The Philadelphia 76ers were good as long as they had the hot hand going for them in the first half. Afterwards? Rondo and Brandon Bass just tore their defense to shreds, giving the Celtics a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Semi Finals.
And it all comes down to Rondo. Yes, Brandon Bass had 27 points, while Kevin Garnett added 20 and Paul Pierce scored 16. But everything good with the Celtics depends on Rondo’s ability to shake free from one defender, getting another one to help on him, freeing up Bass or Garnett beneath the basket. And it seemed to work every time in Game 5.
Rondo finished with 13 points, carefully picking his shots (6-10) and doing what he’s best at – The go and give, and spreading the ball to others. The Sixers couldn’t create the same kind of pressure on the perimeter, and were left too exposed in the paint as Bass kept moving behind players who were frantically trying to close driving lanes.
The problem with jump shooting teams is, well, their streaky shooting. The long shots poured down on the Celtics in the first half, but eventually, they cooled off. Iguodala finished with 3-10 from the field. Evan Turner was 5-13. Lou Williams was 3-10. The Sixers can’t afford to have all three players shooting this badly, especially when they couldn’t create points off the turnovers, finishing with only 7 in the fast break.
For Botson, it wasn’t only about Rondo. It was about realizing Ryan Hollins needs to sit on the bench a lot more, after averaging 15 minutes during Games 2-4. Brandon Bass was out of the picture for Doc Rivers in the fourth quarter of Game 4, but he got some sense back into his head and gave Bass 37 minutes. It paid off.
The big question for the Celtics is how do they avoid another drop in ability like the one they’ve had in Games 2 and 4. It’s not just playing in Philly that’s the problem. The Sixers adjust very well, not making the same defensive mistakes twice. Kevin Garnett can’t give two great efforts in three days it seems. Rondo will have it harder than usual, and as always, the chances of the Celtics coming away with the win rely on his ability to draw the defense to him and find the open man.
For the Sixers, it’s about Rondo as well. They can’t outscore the Celtics with offense. They need their defense and turnovers to carry them through. I’d gamble on giving up on the help on Rondo if he drives inside. He’ll always be looking for a pass, first and foremost. Don’t make it easy for him to find open men. Trapping him much earlier could also do the trick, forcing him to fork over the ball to someone else earlier on in the attack.
The Celtics have more tools offensively to carry them through, but it’s hard to count out the Sixers, in the next game or if we reach Game 7. We’ve seen too much from them in this postseason to think they’re not capable of pulling something out of the hat and surprise the Celtics.