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Rondo kept it moving

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 2, 2012
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Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Tom Heinsohn have shared hundreds of conversations over the years. Their latest came during the final minutes of Game 3 Friday night at the Garden.

Ainge could be seen telling Heinsohn that he told Rajon Rondo to “push the ball, push the ball, move the ball, move the ball.’’ He kept repeating those words to Heinsohn, as if Rondo was in front of him, and the conversation came after Rondo conducted a one-man fast break for an uncontested layup and a 10-point lead over the Miami Heat with 1:39 left.

Rondo was not the brilliant offensive force of Game 2, when he tallied a career-best 44 points, but he was just as effective in the Celtics’ 101-91 victory, a game they led for the final 37 minutes.

Rondo finished with 21 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and just 2 turnovers in 42:41 after playing all 53 minutes in the overtime loss Wednesday. And while he wasn’t as offensively aggressive, he didn’t need to be. He needed to “push the ball, push the ball, move the ball, move the ball,’’ which he did to perfection.

The Celtics got Kevin Garnett going early and he was unstoppable in the paint, finishing with 24 points in 34 minutes. Rondo was a distributor, picking his moments to attack the basket.

“My goal was to win, by any means necessary,’’ Rondo said. “I just wanted to sacrifice, do the things for my teammates to get the lead, keep the lead, and just run the show. My job is to be the leader out there on the floor and an extension of Doc [Rivers], and I just wanted to keep my turnovers down and call a great game.’’

That late layup was a perfect example of his astute decision-making. He saw the middle of the court open up like a Sunday morning on the Southeast Expressway, and soared toward the basket for a finger roll. After the layup and subsequent Miami timeout, LeBron James, who had his back turned, glared at Mario Chalmers for his defensive miscue. Rondo is that annoying.

Perhaps the most important adjustment for Game 3, other than getting Garnett more involved against the center-less Heat, was for Rondo to make a smooth transition from his brilliant Game 2. That meant restraint because as he was dominating the Heat offensively on Wednesday, his teammates were passive, and the Celtics’ offense suffered in key stretches.

On Friday, he attempted eight fewer shots and made sure to “push the ball, move the ball’’ relentlessly. The Celtics became stagnant in the second half of Game 2, walking the ball up the court and allowing the Heat defense to get into position.

They weren’t able to get set Friday, and Rondo refused to allow the Celtics to settle for half-court offense when fast breaks were available.

Rivers did not feel it necessary to talk to Rondo after his 44-point game. Quite often, players who experience career games follow with clunkers. Brandon Bass scored 27 points in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Philadelphia, then followed with 8 in Game 6.

Rondo was intelligent enough to understand that one game didn’t turn him into Allen Iverson. He is a distributor, first and always.

“No, I’m like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, you stay away from that joker,’’ Rivers said when asked if he discussed Game 2 with Rondo. “The guy scored 44 points, what can I possibly tell him? I didn’t tell him a word. I was asked [that] a lot. I told him to keep running the team, keep running the team. The only thing we told him offensively was we had to get Kevin involved. Other than that, just go play.’’

That trust has slowly been established over the years. Rondo and Rivers have a point-guard bond, a relationship in which communication occurs as much with facial expressions as words.

It wasn’t necessary for Rivers to advise Rondo to control his inner Chris Paul and refrain from launching excessive jumpers off pick-and-rolls.

Of Rondo’s 16 shots in Game 3, seven were from outside the key, compared with 13 in Game 2. Rondo was 6 for 9 on layups and runners, capitalizing on Miami’s emphasis on Garnett.

Rondo’s insistence on feeding Garnett in the paint resulted in more layups and fewer contested jumpers. And the Celtics’ offense constantly moved the ball to find the open man.

While it would seem the Celtics would not want to run with the Heat’s greyhounds, they actually do, because they are more efficient when Rondo is allowed to make more instinctive decisions, such as drive between three defenders for a layup with 1:39 left.

“Push the ball, move the ball.’’

“What I like about this year’s playoffs is the turnaround is so quick,’’ Rondo said of his Game 2 disappointment. “You don’t have two days to sulk or think about what you could have done right. If we can get stops and get out in transition, we’re going to cause mismatches. I try to find seams and get into the paint.’’

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