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On Basketball

Point is abundantly clear

Chicago’s advantage puts onus on Rondo

By Gary Washburn
April 8, 2011

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CHICAGO — Not even Rajon Rondo’s cockiness and pride could discourage this admission. On this night, and in the last meeting, too, Derrick Rose was the better point guard.

In front of a national television audience and likely a slew of media members holding MVP votes, Derrick Rose went Mike Tyson circa 1988 on Rondo. He knocked him out quickly with a flurry of acrobatic layups, a silky jumper, head-jarring crossovers, and a fierceness that was unmatched.

If there was a statement to be made last night at United Center — and all sides denied there was — Rose spoke with his brilliance and Rondo was helpless to stop the charge.

There’s no question that Rondo ranks among the league’s top point guards, but the Bulls star showed him what he lacks: a consistent jumper, the ability to finish at the rim, and a sustained interest in defense.

When Rose dribbled, switching hands, he looked in Rondo’s eyes and sensed vulnerability. All Rondo could do when Rose decided to take his muscular, 190-pound body to the rack without much fear of heavier, stronger bodies is stick his right hand in and hope for a distraction.

There was no distracting Rose or the Bulls last night in their 97-81 win. They outclassed the Celtics, played the Celtics’ brand of defense better than Boston did, and Rose carried them offensively in the first half, forcing Rondo into miscues and hurried shots.

Rose finished with 30 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds in 40 minutes. Rondo staggered to 7 points, 6 assists, and 5 boards in 31 minutes. Rondo tried facing up against Rose, but he couldn’t knock down his outside shot or finish at the rim.

He was so skittish in one third-quarter sequence that he raced to an uncontested layup, missed, got the rebound, and then was swatted by Luol Deng. The shake moves, up-and-under fakes, and backhanded layups were no match against Rose, and Rondo acknowledged after the game that if the Celtics are going to rebound from this setback and get rejuvenated for the postseason, he has to improve.

What’s more, he met with coach Doc Rivers in a rare postgame session. Rondo asked for the meeting.

“He kept them in it,’’ Rondo said of Rose. “We got off to a good lead and he thought his team was down and made some plays, got to the [free throw] line. That got him going along with his team.’’

In the Bulls’ two wins over the Celtics in Chicago, Rose went for 66 points (19 of 35 from the floor, 25 of 29 from the foul line), 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. Rondo countered with 20 points (9 of 24 on field goals), 14 assists, and 10 rebounds.

The offensive comparisons are unfair because Rose has more of an arsenal, but Rondo cannot allow Rose to score at will as he did last night. He tallied 16 of Chicago’s 48 first-half points. While the Celtics worked feverishly to contain the Bulls’ other components, Rose prompted the Celtics to double-team and sometimes triple-team him, leaving his teammates open.

So it was no shock that Deng and Carlos Boozer went for 28 points in the second half, 37 overall.

“They outplayed us, every aspect,’’ Rondo said. “Loose balls, contested shots. I think they knew our sets better than we knew theirs. Give them credit. They were very prepared. I’m not saying it’s on our coaches, it’s on us individually to be a better-prepared team. The coaches give us the ingredients that we need. We’re not preparing great enough for ourselves.’’

Most often during interviews, Rondo appears uninterested and offers few words. Last night, he was more reflective. He realizes his power and influence on the Celtics’ success. If he had converted a few more layups or drained a couple of jumpers, the outcome could have been different. If he had made a more impassioned effort to defend Rose, the Celtics would not have had to help so much and leave capable scorers open.

The Celtics’ inability to keep point guards from the paint affects their entire defensive structure. Deng’s career numbers against the Celtics are among his worst against any team, yet he was more than capable of burning the Celtics’ step-slow defense last night.

Rondo is definitely irritated with the team’s execution, which may have been the reason for his impromptu meeting with Rivers. And his comments were a reflection of his frustration.

“I think we need to play with a better sense of urgency,’’ he said. “It better be a wake-up call; if not, we won’t make it far. We’re a completely different team [than last year]. It’s not the same team. We’re not going to be able to turn it on like we did year. I don’t know what we’re waiting on, but these types of games, we have to find a way to win. It’s a roller coaster and right now we went back down today.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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