THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Rondo silenced his heralded foe

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 21, 2008

Deep down in the scrum of media - below the cameraman on the stepladder, inside the layers of notepads and recorders - there was an oddly empty locker, with Rajon Rondo's picture and nothing else.

No shirts, no slacks, no shoes other than a pair of basketball sneakers.

No sight of Rondo, just a crowd of people waiting to ask him a lot of the questions he had heard all season in some new form.

One interrogator pestered Doc Rivers so much that the Celtics coach admitted he got testy.

The question was about Rondo's matchup with his Pistons counterpart, All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups. It's been that way since October. No surprise to Rivers now.

What bothered him was that everyone immediately assumed Rondo was handicapped in the duel.

Rivers stopped and said, "Someone's going to have to guard Rondo, too."

Billups has size, strength, and experience.

But Rondo has speed that's been there forever and confidence that's grown in the past two series.

Rivers knew he was right, but the numbers from last night's 88-79 Celtics win in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals co-signed for him.

Rondo, his second-year point guard, scored 11 points, the only Celtic not named Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce to end up in double digits.

He collected a game-high seven assists.

And on a night when turnovers were the must-have accessory (all the Pistons starters had at least one), Rondo came up with five steals, sneaking up behind Rasheed Wallace for a strip in the fourth quarter that left the Detroit center swinging his arms as if he were swatting flies.

Rondo was a pest, and Pistons coach Flip Saunders acknowledged as much.

"He did a nice job defensively picking up the floor, got into things off the ball, knocking some things," said Saunders.

Meanwhile, Billups, playing with a balky hamstring, totaled only 9 points and 2 assists in 31 minutes. So the early advantage went to the youngster whose mandate is to make the Celtics' three marquee players - Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen - click.

It was a night on which Rondo could gloat, but as his absence indicated, he wasn't so inclined. He didn't need to. He'd made his statement on the Garden parquet.

Enough said.

Julian Benbow can be reached at benbow@globe.com.

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