Rajon Rondo's 44 points in Game 2 were great. Rondo's Game 3 was better.
It wasn't better in the sense that he somehow topped his 44-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound effort from Game 2. He didn't. Individually, that ranks as one of Rondo's best performances in a Celtics uniform, and as one of the best playoff performances by a point guard in NBA history.
What was better about Rondo's Game 3 was twofold. He showcased both his individual brilliance and his ability to run a team, sometimes on the same play. He had 21 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 turnovers, and he was every bit efficient as he was in Game 2. He was clutch once again, making 7 of 10 shots in the second half.
"The goal was to win, by any means necessary," said Rondo. "I don't mind sacrificing for my teammates to get the lead, keep the lead, and run the show."
Celtics fans should be more comfortable with the means their team used to get it done in Game 3. In Game 2, Rondo was on an island. While he made 16 of his 24 shots in that game, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen combined to hit just 19 of 48 shots from the field. The Celtics bench combined for just 7 points. It was Rondo, Rondo, and more Rondo, and the Celtics came up short.
Friday night, the attack was more balanced. Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett all scored more than 20 points. The Celtics bench chipped in 18. And Rondo didn't have to play the entire game, logging 42 minutes. Garnett, in fact, played just 33 minutes after playing 45 minutes in Game 2.
Not all of that was Rondo, but some of it was. Rondo does more between the 3-point lines than any other player in basketball. In one of those only-him moments, Rondo jumped up to intercept a pass by LeBron James in the third quarter, snatching it out of the air with two hands like a linebacker at the line of scrimmage. Rondo then took the ball the other way and right at Miami's Mario Chalmers, drawing the foul and earning two free throws. There was Rondo, all in one play, controlling the tempo and aggressiveness of the game on both ends of the court.
"He stabilized us, really," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "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 [Garnett] involved. Other than that, just go play."
Rondo got Garnett involved, getting him position closer to the rim, which helped improve his shooting to 10 of 16 in Game 3. A master of spacing, Rondo was able to hit Garnett in his sweet spots. He was also able to hit trailers Pierce and Ray Allen, who burned Miami several times in transition with 3-pointers.
In the team sense, Celtics fans should feel better about this win because they didn't get 44 points from Rondo and still won comfortably. Unlike in Game 2, they won with defense, holding the Heat to 35 points in the second and third quarters combined. How do you know the defense was better? The Celtics held Miami to 20 free throw attempts, compared to 26 for themselves and a stunning 47 Wednesday night. You can point to officiating, but the refs also call fewer fouls when you're moving your feet and staying in front of your man.
Game 2 was a spectacular performance for Rondo, but Game 3 was better because it showed the Celtics can win without a superhuman effort from one player. It showed they can win as a unit. Ubuntu? For one night at least, the Celtics got it back.