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Rondo's numbers the key for Celtics

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 9, 2010

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WALTHAM — Simple logic applies to essentially every point guard. If his points and assists are high, there’s a good chance his team comes away with a win. If one is high but not the other, that win isn’t a certainty.

When Rajon Rondo took 10 shots, scored 13 points and dished out 19 assists, functioning as the Celtics’ Swiss Army knife, it translated into a 104-86 Game 2 win over the Cavaliers. When he took 17 shots, scored 18 points, handed out just 8 assists, forced for much of the first half to go it alone, it equaled a 124-95 loss in Game 3.

Halfway into the second quarter, Rondo was the only Celtic with multiple field goals, and at that point Cleveland was up, 46-27, its lead still growing. He took nine shots in the first quarter, but Cleveland almost welcomed the idea of Rondo as a score-first player rather than pass-first point guard. For a player who holds the keys to the series, it’s a delicate tightrope walk.

“He does it at times where he becomes a scorer instead of a playmaker,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said yesterday. “You want him to be both all the time, but playmaking is key.

“I thought early on he really went at [Anthony] Parker and got everything he wanted, but no one else was involved. So you’ve got to be careful. That’s a fine line for a point guard.’’

In the first two games, Cleveland couldn’t find a matchup to contain Rondo. He got to the line 14 times in Game 1, when he dropped 27 points, getting to the paint so frequently that Shaquille O’Neal gave him a playoff foul near the end of the game almost as if to remind him it wasn’t supposed to be that easy.

But in Game 3, Rondo came out as more of a shooter. He went 3 for 9 in the first quarter; six of those nine were jumpers, and he missed all of them, including two 3-pointers. He had just 2 assists in the first quarter of Game 3 compared with the 5 he had in the first quarters of Games 1 and 2.

“He had a matchup where he was attacking,’’ said Ray Allen. “We’ve got to make sure that we keep moving the ball around. We can’t allow them to lull us into that idea that we have a great matchup because Kevin [Garnett] had a great matchup, I had a great matchup, Paul [Pierce] had a great matchup and we’ve got to move it around. We find the matchups that we like, get the ball moving around and become unpredictable. That’s when we get easy looks.’’

Part of what handicapped Rondo was the fact that the Cavs were shredding the Celtics defense, making it impossible for him to use his speed and cause havoc in transition. The fact that the Celtics couldn’t make a basket didn’t do much to bail Rondo out, either.

“He was getting us good shots, too,’’ Rivers said.

“Rondo made the same passes he made in Game 2,’’ said Kendrick Perkins. “Guys just didn’t make the shots. If guys would have made shots [Friday] night, he still probably would have had another 19-assist game. We just didn’t make shots on the offensive end.’’

LeBron James is obviously the center of the Cavs universe, but the Celtics offense functions best when everyone’s touching the ball. Friday, there were times when it got stuck.

“I thought we were a one-option offense for the most part,’’ Rivers said. “We held on to the ball too much as a group, everybody, including Ray, including Rondo, all of them.’’

Shots weren’t falling for Allen (2 of 9) or Pierce (4 for 15), and Garnett (19 points on 8-of-11 shooting) didn’t get involved until the game was out of hand. During the season, the Celtics often showed the same symptoms. Shots stopped falling, the ball stopped moving, and the offense broke down.

“I don’t think we were as sharp on our decisions of moving the ball around,’’ Allen said.

In the first two rounds, the Celtics have faced situations where an opposing superstar had to do everything himself. Their team doesn’t function that way.

Rondo’s playmaking ability is the key to starting a larger machine.

“It’s not one guy,’’ Allen said. “One guy’s not going to figure this out. When we’ve relied on each other we’ve been successful. It takes everybody.’’

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