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Celtics love Rondo’s rise

Playoff growth great to watch

By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / June 14, 2010

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Even now, with a championship ring in his jewelry collection and a five-year, $55 million contract in the bank, Rajon Rondo strikes his coach as a work in progress.

“I still think we forget how young he is,’’ Doc Rivers said last night as the Celtics prepared for their biggest game of the season. “He still has some growing to do, and I think he’s actually doing it during the playoffs, and it’s good.’’

Real good, for the Celtics. The young wonder, rebounding from relatively underwhelming performances in Games 3 and 4, grew some more as he played impresario to his fellow stars to near perfection and helped propel the Green to a 96-82 victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Scoring 18 points on 9-for-12 shooting and dishing out a game-high eight assists, Rondo led the Celtics to the brink of their 18th championship as they seized a 3-2 series advantage and prepared to jet west for the potential clincher tomorrow in Los Angeles.

“It would be something special because it is the Lakers, [with] the history that these two franchises have had in the past couple of years and almost a century,’’ Rondo said, daring to dream. “It would be great to get the win against the Lakers.’’

In the end, Rondo played the role of human dagger to the wheezing Lakers. With less than 36 seconds to play and the Celtics scrambling to protect a 5-point lead, Paul Pierce snared a long inbounds pass from Kevin Garnett and fired an off-balance, cross-court chest pass toward Rondo. At that, Rondo darted away from his helpless defender, Ron Artest, and scored an uncontested reverse layup to stretch Boston’s lead to 89-82.

The difference proved insurmountable as the Lakers failed to creep closer than 5 points the rest of the way.

“I wouldn’t say [it was] the dagger, but it was definitely the momentum shift,’’ Garnett said. “Huge play, because if we don’t get that play, then they come out, and if they scored, it’s a tighter game.’’

To Rivers, it was another sign of growth.

“I thought the pass and the catch by Rondo, and the finish, were huge for us,’’ Rivers said. “And I told Rondo I was happy that he attacked the basket on that. A lot of guys would have dribbled it out.’’

Rondo, though, had been driving the action from the opening tip. For the fifth straight game, the team that won the first quarter won the game, this time because Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett combined for 20 points as Boston seized a 22-20 advantage. The trio also grabbed seven of the team’s eight rebounds and combined for all four assists in the quarter.

By the end of the night, Ray Allen was a factor as well, joining Pierce (27 points), Garnett (18), and Rondo in double figures with 12 points. It marked the first time in the series the foursome played well together.

Rondo attributed the breakthrough to the Big Three’s ability to stay in the game.

“They were in the game, for one, and out of foul trouble,’’ he said. “And, for two, they’re just in a good rhythm right now. Perfect timing.’’

Perfect timing, with a couple of flaws in the execution. Pierce, for one, grew visibly perturbed with Rondo at the end of the first half when Rondo failed to deliver him the ball for the last shot.

Rivers described it as a simple miscommunication.

“We want the ball in Paul’s hands at the end of quarters if we can do it because we haven’t been very good ending quarters as of late,’’ he said. “We wanted a pick-and-roll with Paul and a big, and it just never happened.’’

Steamed, Pierce let Rondo know about it at halftime.

“I was a little upset at that,’’ Pierce said. But, “hey, he’s our point guard and I trust him. He’s made so many great plays for us throughout the year and throughout the playoffs. It wasn’t nothing. We’ve got spats with our team all the time.’’

Rondo said he tried his best to get Pierce the ball.

“Luke Walton was really trying hard to deny him the ball, and I tried to look him off, knowing that I was going to Paul, but it was just communication,’’ Rondo said. “I just wanted to make a play.’’

Rondo drew criticism from Rivers only for overreacting to Artest giving Garnett a little extra shove on a foul in the first half, knocking Garnett to the floor. Rondo responded by shoving Artest and drawing a technical foul.

Rondo’s view: “In Kevin’s defense, I pushed him back.’’

His coach’s opinion: “I don’t like that stuff. Let’s just play . . . If you want to show toughness, toughness is walking away from all the other stuff.’’

For Rondo, yet another growing experience.

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.

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