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Rondo had Sixers under his control

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 18, 2012
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PHILADELPHIA - Rajon Rondo is not sure what the 76ers are going to throw at him in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night. But he is prepared for the unexpected.

“I’m sure they’ll make their adjustments,’’ Rondo said. “Evan Turner’s been checking me - that’s not a normal matchup. So I’m sure they’ll make a change - maybe, maybe not. Not necessarily the matchup between Evan Turner and I. But maybe the defense will shrink a lot more.

“Who knows? But we’ll be ready. I’ll be ready.’’

Stopping Rondo, or at least slowing him down, is becoming a major obstacle for the Sixers. In the last two games, Rondo has produced 27 assists with two turnovers, a ratio that indicates he is approaching these games with greater focus. Before Game 2 of this series, Rondo had 76 assists and 25 turnovers in the playoffs.

Sixers coach Doug Collins noted that Rondo seems able to take the ball wherever he wants on the court and that “he controlled the game’’ as the Celtics took a 107-91 victory in Game 3 Wednesday.

Rondo had 23 points and 14 assists in what was as close to a mistake-free floor game as possible. Rondo committed his lone turnover in the opening minute, leading to an Andre Iguodala dunk for the first points of the game.

After that, Rondo went 39 minutes without a turnover, choreographing the offense from the point to the paint and rewarding teammates for running with transition dishes.

“I want us to understand,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “if we’re running three and four times and we haven’t run a set, we haven’t scored or we’re out of rhythm, then we have to get into a set.

“And I thought Rondo walked that line perfectly. We had a lot of transition buckets, we scored a lot of points out of random, and we also scored a lot of points out of execution. You have to do both.

“You have to get easy baskets - you’re not going to win a series when everything is halfcourt, you have to get easy baskets - but then, you have to execute in halfcourt, as well.’’

The Celtics overwhelmed the Sixers by a score of 61-33 in the second and third quarters.

“We made shots yesterday - that helps,’’ Rondo said. “Other games before, we hit lulls where we didn’t score the basketball at all and it carried over defensively. That was one of those nights where we made a lot of shots.’’

When a team’s point guard is on, cause-and-effect comes into play. Teammates are receiving the ball efficiently, in a rhythm, and they have enough space and time to fire away confidently. Average shooters become better-than-average shooters. Pure shooters having an off night all of a sudden are getting dunks and layups.

Rondo made certain to set up Kevin Garnett on the post. Rondo free-lanced, driving off the dribble. He made certain Paul Pierce would get some easy baskets.

“At the beginning of the game, we went inside to Paul, and we went back outside for the next four or five minutes,’’ Rivers said. “Rondo made a good call and went to the post. Anytime we missed a couple shots, we went right back to the post.’’

Rondo’s combination of ball skills, vision, and willpower got the Celtics into their “in-out’’ sets and also flying by the Sixers on fast breaks.

“Whenever you make shots, it makes everything easier,’’ Rivers said. “But we also made a lot of shots off our defensive stops. We got in transition, we were in the paint 60 times. It doesn’t mean we took 60 shots in the paint – sometimes the shots were behind the three or outside the paint - but it led to in-out basketball, and that’s who we are.’’

That means, by Rivers’s reckoning, the Celtics were able to take the ball inside on about 60 percent of their possessions, an overwhelming amount.

“We didn’t play a perfect game,’’ Rondo said. “We made a lot more shots than we did in Game 2.

“But there’s some things we can do defensively, to make adjustments, and try and continue to shut those guys down. But they scored 33 points in the first quarter - I’m sure that’s a quarter we can look at. They made some tough shots, they got into the paint, which we don’t want to allow.

“We’re human. There’s ups and downs. We’re not going to play perfect every night. As long as we continue to get wins, it’s about getting wins as a team, not if we win by 20 or we win by 1.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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