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Celtics 106, Cavaliers 87

A hot Rondo burns Cavs

Guard on target in Celtics’ victory

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 1, 2010

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CLEVELAND — The plan seemed brilliant. They always seem brilliant when you draw them up.

Rajon Rondo didn’t make the All-Star team because of lights-out shooting. Defenses don’t exactly tremble when they see him pull up from 15 feet.

In fact, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said anything from 15 feet out, Rondo can have.

It looked like sound strategy when the Cavaliers gave the point guard every shot he wanted back in October. He took 12 shots, practically ball-hogging by his standards, scored a team-high 18 points, and the Celtics lost, 95-87.

So when they came back to Quicken Loans Arena last night, it made sense to use the same plan. Only this time, the basketball gods couldn’t stop laughing at it.

Scott didn’t account for Rondo having the hot hand. He scored 13 points in the first half, knocked down 7 of his first 12 shots, and finished with a game-high 23 points and 12 assists (along with 5 rebounds) in Boston’s 106-87 win.

As far as strategy goes, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn’t knock Scott. In this instance, though, it backfired.

“That’s probably the right way,’’ Rivers said. “Obviously, what we want from Rondo, the points are good when he scores but doesn’t have 20 attempts. When he has the 14, 16, 18 points, low attempts, high assists, that means everybody’s involved and the ball is touching everybody’s hands.

“That’s what a lot of teams are trying to do. They try to get him to take a lot of shots. I thought early on we kind of fell into that a little bit, but we were active and we were effective with it. So when it works, it’s fine.’’

Rondo gladly took his 11-for-17 shooting night along with his eighth double-double of the year, feeling no shame about slipping out of his normal role.

“I don’t feel guilty,’’ he said. “I prefer the 2 [points] and 10 [assists]. I could care less about scoring the ball. But obviously teams are going to make me shoot it, try to make me score the ball. So I’m going to shoot the ball when I feel I have to or need to if it’s the best shot for me on the possession. But other than that I’m a pass-first point guard and I like keeping my teammates happy.’’

Scott had no choice but to swallow his Sharpie and clipboard.

“It’s difficult because the one thing you want to do is try to keep him out of the paint as much as possible, which is easier said than done, obviously,’’ Scott said. “You still want to stick to the things that you are trying to do on the defensive end, despite the fact that he’s trying to get to the basket. We just didn’t do a real good job of clogging the paint and forcing him to shoot contested jump shots. It kind of looked like layup drills.’’

The Celtics also got a lift from a bench that had gone slightly astray after losing pieces to injury. After falling behind by 9 in the first quarter, as Paul Pierce found himself in foul trouble, the Celtics went on an 18-4 run in the middle of the second quarter.

Glen Davis (17 points, 11 rebounds), Marquis Daniels (16 points on 7-of-10 shooting), and Nate Robinson (8 points with a pair of 3-pointers) combined to score 16 of the Celtics’ 35 second-quarter points. They took a 56-45 lead into the half and piled it on from there.

“I thought the bench turned the game around,’’ Rivers said.

Even though they were facing the defending Eastern Conference champions, much of the Cavaliers’ focus entering the game centered around the return of LeBron James tomorrow with Miami.

The Cavs said their attention was fully on the Celtics, but statistics told a different story. Cleveland let Boston shoot 50.6 percent from the floor, score 60 points in the paint, and win the rebounding battle, 49-45.

In the end, though, they played a game of double-dare with Rondo, and he dealt them their demise.

“He showed that he can beat you,’’ Pierce said. “They came in and said we’re going to try to make Rondo beat us. They showed in the way they defended him. They went under all the pick and rolls, played him loose, let him get to the rim, get out to the break. He was phenomenal. He took up the scoring load for us and it showed that if teams are going to settle and try to let Rondo beat them, he’s capable of doing it.’’

Once upon a time, letting Rondo beat you might have seemed like a safe bet.

“When it comes to the NBA,’’ Kevin Garnett said, “I don’t bet at all.’’

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