Rondo's slam signals a momentum shift

Peter May, Special to Yahoo! Sports

BOSTON – If Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy needs any material to amp up his comatose bunch from Game 2 for the two upcoming games in the Magic Kingdom, all he needs to do is show one play from Wednesday night's 112-94 pistol-whipping by the Boston Celtics.

He won't have any trouble cuing it up – it'll be a television staple for the next 24 to 36 hours. It's a play that brought the Boston Garden crowd to its feet – and kept it there – and epitomized what turned out to be the men vs. boys theme of the night.

Rajon Rondo(notes) – who else? – was the man of the moment. He took a pass from Eddie House(notes) and drove down the lane for an uncontested, one-handed, authoritative jam. But what's most revealing about the play is not the dunk, spectacular as it was. Most revealing was that two members of the Magic were in position to challenge Rondo. Both of those players – Dwight Howard(notes) and Rashard Lewis(notes) – were Eastern Conference All-Stars, make a lot of money and have huge size advantages over the 6-foot-1 Celtics point guard.


Celtics' Rajon Rondo leaps over the Magic's Dwight Howard for a dunk during the second half of Boston's 112-94 win in Game 2.

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Neither Howard nor Lewis left his feet as Rondo soared. Neither player in any significant way attempted to stop, defend, impede or prevent the dunk. Howard, who led the NBA in blocked shots and is the 2008-09 Defensive Player of the Year, simply watched Rondo as if he was a shooting star. Lewis actually backed off, moving away to make more room for Rondo.

That was Game 2 in a nutshell. The Celtics attacked, the Magic backed off.

That, actually, has been the way this series has gone since midway through the third quarter of Game 1. The series is 1-1, but it doesn't feel that way.

The Celtics mauled the Magic on Wednesday, destroying Orlando inside (40-24 in points in the paint) and even beating them at their own 3-point shooting game with Eddie House emerging in Game 2 as a scoring machine. House had 31 points on 14 shots in about 28 minutes on the floor.

House not only led everyone in scoring, but he also may have been responsible for Rafer Alston(notes) possibly missing Friday's Game 3. After making one of his 11 baskets – he was 4-for-4 on 3-pointers – House and Alston had a bit of a collision, after which a frustrated Alston slapped House on the back of the head, a no-no in today's NBA.

Alston claimed House elbowed him and that he was only reacting to a cheap shot.

Sniffed House, "Everyone saw what happened. I'm not that kind of player."

House added, "I think he was tired of getting hit upside the head."

Everyone on the Magic looked tired of getting hit upside the head. The Celtics came out in attack mode, with the ever-resourceful Rondo leading the way. Rondo had yet another triple-double (15 points, 11 rebounds and 18 assists) and was determined to atone for what he felt was a sluggish (and unwarranted) effort in the first half of Game 1.

"I just didn't come out and play with great passion,'' Rondo said of his listless play in the first half of Game 1. "And it was too late when I did get it back. I'll never do that again."


"This was not one of the more enjoyable days of my coaching career." said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

He set the tone.

"I wanted to attack them and put them on their heels,'' he said.

In the first half, he had 12 assists (two more than the entire Orlando team) along with eight points, seven rebounds and no turnovers in 22 minutes.

"He has taken charge out there. He is the voice of that team,'' said J.J. Redick(notes).

But Rondo doing otherworldly stuff no longer qualifies as a news bulletin. He has done it throughout the postseason. What stood out in Game 2 was how Orlando played like wimps.

Would someone inform Lewis that this series has started? And Hedo Turkoglu(notes) as well? Howard did a passable impersonation of Chris Dudley at the free-throw line and was outplayed and outmuscled by Kendrick Perkins(notes).

The Magic never led. They never were in the game in the second half. Celtics coach Doc Rivers felt like Chuck Daly coaching the Dream Team – he never had to call a "stop-the-bleeding" timeout all night. Van Gundy, meanwhile, called a slew of them, to no effect.

"This was not one of the more enjoyable days of my coaching career. They dominated from the get-go,'' Van Gundy said. "That's the first time in a long time that we've got our butts kicked."

It wasn't just that. The Magic lost their collective cool. There was Alston's swipe at House. Redick was thrown out after whispering something to ref Bennett Salvatore and then patting the official on the back. At some point in the game, probably in the first 10 minutes, a mindset was established for the Magic: We got one in Boston and that's good enough. Howard was a total non-factor and put the blame on himself.

"I was disappointed that instead of fighting back, we hung our heads,'' Howard said. "For the first time this year, we really did that and we can't let getting down in the game affect us. We always fought no matter what and we didn't bring that fight at all. I am disappointed in myself because I feel like me being the leader on this team, I have to be able to find a way to get my teammates motivated when I am having a night when the ball doesn't seem to go in."

Series are all about adjustments, but the Magic need to do more than adjust to make it a series. They need a heart transplant. They never challenged a Celtics team that was in desperate need of a win, a team that got exactly one basket (and three points) from a foul-plagued Paul Pierce(notes).

And, needless to say, no one challenged Rondo when he drove the lane for his huge dunk, which pushed the Boston lead to 23 points with 2:47 left in the third quarter.

"I saw Dwight and Rashard were there, under the basket,'' Rondo said. "I knew I had to go strong. I was determined."

He was, indeed. It rubbed off on his teammates. And it rubbed out what passed for the opposition of the evening.