Down eight points to the Miami Heat in the third quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics needed a basket, so they turned to the guy they rely on to generate good looks.
With the shot clock winding down and less than four minutes remaining in a quarter that had seen the C's run cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 16 second-half shots, Rajon Rondo attacked off the dribble, crossing left to run Dwyane Wade into a Brandon Bass screen and forcing Shane Battier to pick him up on a switch. Rondo crossed the lane and showed the ball to Battier, who had already picked up two blocked shots in the third, including one on a Rondo layup attempt.
Then, as he's done so many times during his six-year NBA career, Rondo pulled the ball back and pivoted back toward the basket for what looked to be an easy layup; the slick ball fake (often disguised as a behind-the-back pass) has become Rondo's signature move, and when Battier went sailing past toward the baseline, it looked like the Celtics point guard had rung up another victim.
Except LeBron James was there. Again. Like he was the entire night.
Standing a step outside the paint and leaving Paul Pierce wide open on the wing — not a bad bet, since it's unlikely the ball could have made its way from Rondo to Pierce and from Pierce to the rim before the 24-second buzzer sounded, and even if it could, Pierce has hit only 5 of 14 shots to that point (he finished Game 1 with a 5-for-18 mark) — James calmly stepped up behind Rondo, reached his left hand up over the 6-foot triggerman's head, swatted the layup attempt toward the boundary and sent Rondo crashing face-first to the deck. Miami ball.
James laughing at Kevin Garnett late in the fourth quarter of Miami's 93-79 Game 1 win is the story on which most of the Game 1 postmortems will seize, the narrative strand likely to tie together every highlight package and talk radio segment about the Heat having a 1-0 lead, and that's fine. But to me, this sequence might illuminate a more revealing truth — that for large stretches of this series, Boston is going to have to exhaust the entire shot clock in search of a clean look, and that even if one of its only two players (along with Kevin Garnett) capable of generating one gets a sliver of daylight, Miami's swarming defense will be able to quickly shut the lights out because there just aren't enough other options it has to respect.
The Celtics will try every trick they've got against the Heat, and over the course of a series, some of them are going to work. But they're going to need something more substantial to be able to score enough to beat Miami, by the looks of things.
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