THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Rondo’s first-class play led to quite a second quarter

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / February 1, 2010

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The Celtics’ second-quarter strategy paid off perfectly in yesterday’s game against the Lakers at TD Garden, thanks to Rajon Rondo. Their final-minute moves did not go quite as well, as the Lakers scored the final 4 points of the game in taking a 90-89 victory.

Rondo was not in the lineup for the final Celtics possession, which concluded with a Ray Allen miss just before the buzzer. Nor was Rondo available for comment afterward. He had done most of his talking with his play, but he also had a lengthy discussion with lead official Bennett Salvatore following a couple of questionable calls in the late going.

The Celtics realized they could have put this game away as they took an 11-point lead early in the final quarter, an advantage that was set up by some extraordinary production from Rondo. Coach Doc Rivers took a slight gamble by altering Rondo’s first-half minutes, and it paid off in a 33-17 second quarter that put the Celtics in command.

“We told Rondo before the game we were going to sub him early because I wanted him against their second unit,’’ Rivers said. “I thought it would be a good change for our second unit to have Rondo, because it gives us a ballhandler. And I thought that was big for us.’’

In the second quarter, Rondo had a hand in 28 points - he scored 9 and had eight assists, three leading to 3-pointers. That output more than compensated for the Celtics’ inconsistent first quarter.

After taking a 52-42 advantage on a Rondo-assisted Paul Pierce 3-pointer with 1:34 remaining in the half, the Celtics should simply have concentrated on managing the lead. In the fourth quarter, though, they were unable to do so. After an Eddie House 3-pointer with 9:17 remaining, the Celtics converted only two more field goals.

Rondo and the Celtics had a legitimate complaint after Salvatore erroneously ruled a Rasheed Wallace 3-point miss had not hit the rim, Rondo grabbing the rebound. Instead of getting a fresh 24-second shot clock, the Celtics had five seconds, Rondo forcing an off-balance drive.

The Celtics got a Kevin Garnett turnaround with a second left on the shot clock for an 86-82 lead, but Andrew Bynum countered with a second on the clock to pull the Lakers within 2 with 3:24 left. Then Rondo appeared to have restored the 4-point advantage, but Salvatore whistled a traveling call. Rondo spent much of the next timeout trying to make his point with the referee. But the Celtics didn’t score again from the field.

“I think [Rondo] played a great game,’’ Wallace said. “He was aggressive. They slacked off of him and he made a couple jump shots, got other guys involved. I think he played a good game. That was typical Rondo, go to the basket, get some layups, make that dish, get other guys involved, hit Ray [Allen] or Paul on that wing for that ‘J.’ The things that he did didn’t surprise me because we know what he can do.’’

The Celtics went through postgame news conferences and locker room interviews mostly resigned to their fate, eager to board a plane for tonight’s game against Washington. Rondo’s absence might have said something about his frustration.

“We’re missing a lot of our shots,’’ Wallace said. “Early in the year we were making more of our shots, now we’re missing quite a few of them. But it’s all part of it. We know we’re not going to go out there and be hot every night, but of course we have to know we can go out every night and make a majority of our shots.

“Just keep playing, just keep playing hard. I mean, if you are going out there and playing hard and giving 150 percent and still coming away with a loss, I think us as a team we feel a little bit better about ourselves. We don’t like it that we lost, but at least we can say we gave 150 percent, we did everything right, did what we were supposed to do. [If it] just wasn’t our night, then I think, with that, we can walk away with our head held high.’’

Asked about the Lakers possibly gaining a psychological advantage, Wallace said, “I was never one with that, because postseason is a whole different season. It’s the added-on season where all the shots are bigger - that’s when you see who has the biggest machismo.

“Regular season, yeah, you’ve got a few big games where anybody can hit some shots. Then, when it’s for the hardware, some cats don’t want to take those shots. So, I don’t think it’s a psychological advantage if you dominate or beat a team in the regular season.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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