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Cavaliers in dire need of MVP-caliber performance

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 10, 2010

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Mo Williams sat at his locker in the visitors’ dressing room yesterday and tried to assess the damage Rajon Rondo had done to the Cavaliers in the Celtics’ redemptive 97-87 victory in Game 4.

In the wake of Rondo’s otherworldly 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist tour de force, Williams was asked how the Cavaliers planned to stop the Celtics’ mercurial point guard when the series shifts to Cleveland for Game 5 tomorrow night.

“We’re a good enough team to figure that out,’’ Williams said. “He’s a good player so [you] gotta give credit where credit is due, but one player can’t beat us. He did great today and we still had the game in our hands and I still think on our part we gave that game away. It was our game to have.

“I thought the mistakes we made to ourselves lost that game,’’ added Williams, who pointed out how the Celtics dominated scoring in the paint (50-40), on second-chance opportunities (13-0), and on the break (23-7), much of the latter because of Rondo’s ability to mash the gas in transition. “But you gotta give credit where credit is due; he had a hell of a game.’’

Which left unanswered the question still facing Cleveland in Game 5: How to stop Rondo?

Leave it to LeBron James to offer a possible solution.

When asked after the game if he wanted to take a shot at guarding Rondo, James raised his hand.

“I mean, I would, I would love to,’’ he said.

That could be the answer. The only person seemingly capable of dealing with Rondo’s blinding speed and quickness in the open court would be King James himself, the league’s MVP.

Perhaps, it is time in this series for the Cavaliers’ best player to go mano-a-mano with Celtics’ best player.

“It’s something that we should explore,’’ said James, who hit 7 of 18 field goals and scored 22 points yesterday, 1 more than he had in the first quarter of Cleveland’s Game 3 124-95 demolition of Boston. “Because Rondo is definitely dominating the series at the point guard position.

“For me, I don’t have a problem taking Rondo or guarding Rondo throughout the course of the game,’’ James added. “If the coaching staff or the guys want me to do it, I will.’’

James found himself in a similar scenario in the first round against Chicago. After Derrick Rose went for 28 points in Game 1 and 31 points each in Games 3 and 5, James stepped up to help defend the Bulls guard. But, James noted, if he had to do so against Rondo, it could expose the Cavaliers to other problematic matchups.

“Derrick Rose, it was throughout the course of the game and I decided to take him,’’ James said. “It’s a different team because Boston has more options offensively than Chicago had at the time. They had Kirk Hinrich, Rose, and I think maybe James Johnson was on the court at the time, so our smalls were able to switch off to James Johnson and Kirk and I was able to switch off to Derrick.’’

The presence of Paul Pierce could prevent James from making a similar switch to guard Rondo.

“Sometimes it’s difficult when Mo’s on the court and Delonte [West] is on the court, for me to switch off on Rondo because Paul’s in the game,’’ James said.

“We can’t put Delonte or Mo on Paul because of the size advantage. But they kind of counter what we have on the court, so I can’t switch on to [Rondo]. So it’s usually me guard Paul for most of the game.’’

The one time James tried to defend Rondo on the break it resulted in Rondo’s pretty behind-the-back pass to Tony Allen for an easy basket that came at the start of a decisive 13-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. It enabled the Celtics to erase a 70-69 deficit and build a commanding 82-72 lead with 8:57 to go.

Rondo baited James into going for the block by faking a layup. He then pulled the ball back for the behind-the-back feed to Allen.

“If he would have laid it up, I would have [blocked it], of course,’’ James said. “That’s why he went behind the back.’’

When Rondo stepped to the line with 17.8 seconds left to shoot a pair of free throws that would give him his 28th and 29th points of the game, the sellout crowd of 18,624 at TD Garden acknowledged him with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!’’

“He’s an unbelievable talent and a rare talent we have in this league with the size and the speed that he has,’’ James said.

To stop him in Game 5, the Cavaliers may very well have to rely upon their own unbelievable and rare talent.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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