Why Rajon Rondo Wasn’t Enough to Lift the Celtics Over the Heat

Rajon Rondo pulled off an historic night – Not getting a second’s rest, playing 53 minutes, scoring 44 points while adding 10 assists and 8 rebounds. He was shooting like crazy from beyond the arc (at a garbage time finish) and from long range. And it was nearly enough. But it takes more to beat the Miami Heat with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

The simple fact is that not enough Boston Celtics players showed up, especially in crunch time. Paul Pierce faded away and eventually fouled out, while Kevin Garnett, just like Rondo, was falling of his feet at a certain point. Rondo might have done something no other NBA player has ever done, but without Paul Pierce getting more involved and going to the line it seems that even heroic nights like this won’t be enough.

The Celtics have figured out a way to disrupt’s the Heat’s defense. It’s simply – Rondo making outside shots, 8-10 in Game 2. Still, stats usually measure out over the long run, and the Heat still should prefer Rondo trying to beat them with semi contested jumpers than penetrating. Every time Rondo blows by a defender, it isn’t just one less player to guard him on his way to the paint. The entire Miami defense (and all the other NBA defenses) become a mess, leaving men open. Rondo will find them almost every time.

Rondo didn’t get screwed just by that one call with Dwyane Wade hitting him in the face. He has been pushed, shoved and has been treated uber-aggressively when he drives. So have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the other side. Maybe not in clear ways such as that last non-call on Rondo, who also was late returning to defense on his tired legs, but the Celtics have got to let the officiating issue go. I’m pretty sure being the constantly complaining side isn’t helping them in future games.

So what did the Heat do to take over the game? A bad third quarter from Rondo, suddenly hesitant to pull up from long range while facing Joel Anthony, LeBron James and Udonis Haslem covering him, helped a lot. But the adjustments on offense, such as LeBron James suddenly setting a screen for Wade and in general, Wade finally waking up and dealing with the double teams that limited him in the first half.

James’ defense on Paul Pierce has been crucial. Pierce did score 21 points in game 2, but he isn’t getting by James inside and is not freeing up for uncontested, easy outside shots. He is 13-37 so far from the field in this series and is clearly overwhelmed by James on the other side, allowing him 33 points in the first two games, along with Mikael Pietrus, who might have the strength to deal with James, but isn’t disciplined when it comes to not-committing fouls and is almost a non-factor on the offensive end.

And above all the plays and screen, it’s the attitude and delivery. LeBron James might not be fired up on every play, sometimes trying to make shortcuts by pulling up for long range jumpers, but he fixes a mistake by coming and attacking the very next possession. When he gets those legs going and pushes through with his upper body, no one on the Celtics can actually stop him from getting into the paint.

James does hesitate when he sees Garnett standing firm, but the emergence of the role players after being so heavily criticized; With Dwyane Wade coming in after early screens which makes it easier for him dealing with the Celtics defense, it’s more than just James scoring on his own. There’s suddenly more people to trust with the ball, unlike the Celtics who seem to be losing people to rely on except for Rondo and Garnett.

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