Boston 97, Cleveland 87; series tied, 2-2
For a while, I've toyed with the idea of describing Rajon Rondo(notes) as some sort of mini-LeBron James(notes). But fearful of hyperbole, a bit uneasy with the designations that denote him as Boston's best player, and stubborn when it comes to sloughing off possibly the finest all-around player, the best shooter, and the most dogged late game scorer of my generation (I'm old), I kept away from it.
And boy was I wrong.
Because this is Rondo's team. And on Sunday afternoon, he absolutely owned the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as the Boston Celtics. This was complete and utter dominance, from the point guard position, that we just haven't seen in ... well, when have we seen something like this?
Tell me. Because this wasn't some skinflint driving all night and getting to the line 42 times. This wasn't someone working a screen and roll and picking up assist after assist. This wasn't someone grabbing long rebounds, piling up the stats.
This was something else. Those rebounds, as you saw late in the game, were in traffic. Those points? They came from all over - and he was a couple of missed runners and lay-ins away from dropping 35. Those assists? Nothing consistent about them, outside of the way that he set his teammates up for quick and relatively easy scores.
That game? Not mini-LeBron. Better than LeBron. Tell your boy the King to pull in 18 rebounds, once in a while.
29 points on 21 shots, 13 assists, two steals, and four turnovers for Rondo, as well. Just ran it. Gave his team life and made Cleveland's day hellish.
The Cavs coasted a bit, I'm not going to completely put this win in Boston's hands, because Cleveland could have taken this. From the outset, however, they were willing to let this work as Boston's game. Willing to react, rather than create reactions. This doesn't mean they were playing especially poorly, it just means the Cavaliers were allowing Boston to set the terms of conflict.
James and company were making things easy on the Boston defense. James wasn't making quick decisions upon receiving the rock, allowing the Boston D to load up and his individual defender to get into that coin flip situation (shot, or drive?) and hope for the best. If he would have just grabbed the ball and made a move straightaway, even if it meant hoisting 19-footers all afternoon, things would have been different. The Boston D wouldn't have been ready. Free throws would result. Offensive rebounds would have been in the offing.
Instead, Boston ran things. The offense was at once potential-laden and quite simplistic. The D was stout, enough, and the help was there. Kendrick Perkins(notes) had perhaps the finest zero-point, six-rebound game you've ever seen. Four blocks help my point, but he also came through with a series of contested shots, with brilliant help defense. Yes, Shaquille O'Neal(notes) put up 17 points, but Perkins outplayed him. Shaq was off (MOVE!), defensively, while Perk was as on as I've ever seen him.
Tony Allen(notes) (6-7 shooting) was large, moving into open spaces and finishing expertly, somehow stopping himself from chucking the ball off his thigh and into the stands one time for every five possessions he used up. Rasheed Wallace(notes) only managed three points and three rebounds in 20 minutes, pretty terrible stats, but his effort was there. He was trying. And Glen Davis(notes) was moving on both ends. Ray Allen(notes) needed 21 shots to score 18 points, but he had several open clangs, and those will come around. Also, Brian Scalabrine(notes) whiffed on a high-five from Tony Allen as the first half ended.
The Cavs? They have to go quickly, and put Boston on its heels. A home court has a way of telling you that this is your game, but I'm sure you're with me in getting a little sick of seeing the team with the most regular season wins play the way their opponents want them to.
It's a best of three, now, with two to play in Ohio. There's no shame in that, but there is a bit of disappointment in a Cavalier team that has let it go this far. Just once, I'd like to see that switch stay on for more than four quarters at a time.