June 04, 2010
While pointing out that "Kobe [Bryant] did a great job" guarding him, Rondo didn't think that Bryant was working any new or previously unseen mojo in defending him, and pointed out that he "missed a couple of easy layups last night that I usually make."
Because by the looks of Rondo's misses from inside the paint Thursday night, only one miss could have been qualified as easy.
The rest of the shots — two makes, four misses, one earned trip to the line — looked incredibly hard. Rondo had no business scoring the five points that he did on those seven possessions. And five points in seven possessions is a terrible rate.
Which is probably why Celtic assistant coach Clifford Ray was discussing the finer points of interior finishing with Rondo after practice Friday, as Rondo (away from the podium, and the requisite stiff upper lip) looked absolutely flustered reflecting back on what, exactly, the Lakers were doing to put him in such a perilous position. Most of these misses were reverses, sent up in a hurried and harried fashion unseen even in the Orlando series, when Rondo had to do his paint damage against Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard(notes).
Rajon didn't exactly tear it up against the Magic — he shot 42 percent on the series and his work around the rim in this postseason (excluding last night's performance) is down a bit from his shooting mark near the rim in the regular season — but the manner in which he missed those shots, so frantically, tends to stick out.
Because, to get right to it, the Laker bigs had Rondo freaked out.
They let him self-inflict these wounds, refusing to open up passing angles as he loped into the paint, forcing Rondo into shots he didn't want to take. WEEI's Paul Flannery pointed this out to Rondo on Friday during media availability, asking if he thought the Lakers bigs had made a point not to over-commit to Rondo before he had decided to pass or shoot, but Rondo wouldn't have any of it.
"I drew the bigs a couple of times and got Perk to the free-throw line. A couple of times he converted on a couple of buckets."
This isn't completely true. Rondo did send Perkins to the line with a good pass on two different occasions, but the first instance took place after Rondo cut to the paint to grab a dish, nothing to do with his own penetration, and the second occurred after the Lakers miscommunicated defensively and Rondo threw a pass from the 3-point line to a wide-open Perkins. Kendrick's other basket was on a drive of his own making.
Beyond those hiccups, though, it looks like a typical Phil Jackson defensive strategy. And Rondo should be honored to be in the company he's in.
Because the modus operandi for Jackson, in the Finals especially, has been to force hot-shot point guards to the baseline, and push them into making decisions in the air. And those in-air choices, as the bigs cover the guard slightly and then relent as the point man nears his decision, usually end up with a shot. It doesn't mean the point guard — we're talking about Gary Payton(notes), John Stockton and Jason Kidd(notes) here — is acting selfishly. With all the angles covered and the rim tantalizingly close to the point guard, the best option usually seems to be to toss up a shot.
Except it's a bad decision. Or, more accurately, bad execution and a bad outcome. Because Rondo, as it was with the Hall of Fame-types, could have taken advantage of Los Angeles' purposeful hesitation maneuvers. He had the space, and he certainly had another second-and-a-half of time to work with. Rondo was just unaware. He'll have to become aware, quite quickly.
"It's all on me," Rondo said before practice on Friday, before working on those spinning shots around the baseline. "On my judgment, knowing how to play the game."
Nobody doubts Rondo's judgment after Game 1. It's a near-impossible situation to try and spin in a banked-in reverse shot with two 7-footers seemingly able to smell your breath. But the execution — an extra dribble, a pump-fake, taking off of his strong foot as opposed to the quickest foot available at the time — needs to improve. Point guards can score on Phil Jackson-led teams, because even if Russell Westbrook(notes) faded, Deron Williams(notes) disappointed and Steve Nash(notes) ultimately fell short against Los Angeles, the opportunities are there. He could create the easy looks that he was imagining from Thursday night.
And Rondo's chances will return. Jackson's had the same philosophy for decades, and he's able to execute it expertly in 2010 with those 7-footers hanging around, to say nothing of the brilliant defensive decision-making from Kobe Bryant(notes) in Game 1.
The burden falls to Rondo. And with Kevin Garnett(notes) fading, Ray Allen(notes) struggling to get shots off, and Ron Artest(notes) making Paul Pierce's(notes) life more difficult by the day, he might be Boston's best chance at making this a competitive series.
He'll have to start by giving himself a chance to make shots.