Erik Spoelstra said it best. Rajon Rondo is a maestro when he’s on the basketball court. He’s a savant when it comes to the intricacies and nuances of the game. He knows what to do in almost every situation on the floor. He can be whatever his team needs him to be at any given moment. He is truly an extension of his coach, Doc Rivers, on the floor.
On Tuesday Rondo was the catalyst for everything the Celtics did as usual. Except for this time it seemed as if he multiplied his already massive efforts by 100. Rondo played 53 minutes of basketball and scored 44 points on 24 shots throughout those minutes. He also included 10 assists and 8 rebounds in that massive package. Though the Celtics lost the game, Rondo’s monster effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.
What I’d like to focus on is how Rajon went from pass first to scorer in this game.
Miami was giving Rondo all looks that he was comfortable with making. Especially in the first half. Doc Rivers did an excellent job of making sure that he would be comfortable as well. He was able to remain on the attack through the duration of the game. I’ll breakdown a few plays for you guys to show you what I mean.
Lets start off with Rondo’s first points of the game. An unexpected look for many of us in transition. Rondo pulled up for a free throw line jump-shot. You can see that below.
Rondo grabbed the rebound off of the Heat miss and pushed the break. No one on the Heat expected him to pull up for a jumper and they didn’t respect that until it was too late. A relatively simple play set the tone for Rondo’s aggression throughout the game.
Next, lets move on to how Miami played Rondo on screens in the first half of play. They were, as many other teams do, playing with Rondo’s initial defender at least back at the free throw line. In this next video, it will demonstrate how Boston countered that to get Rondo open looks at the elbow without any threat of a closeout.
Here, Bass sets a screen that enables Pierce to cut to the low block. Then Bass goes to set a pindown screen that originally looks like its supposed to free Pierce up to come back to the top of the arch. Instead, Rondo uses that screen to his advantage. Bass, being heady here, uses the screen to pin his own man down because he knows that Wade is going to go under the screen on Rondo.
Because Bass is holding him down, Miller has no chance to hedge out on Rondo, eliminating a contest on his jumper. That’s an easy two points for Boston there.
In the next video you see very similar action. Except this time the screener is Mickael Pietrus.
Here, Pietrus cuts across the floor to set a screen for Rondo. Normally, he pops and Rondo will have a driving lane available. This time, Pietrus screens his own man again and keeps that position so he can’t fight through and hedge on Rondo. Wade fights under the screen and Rondo is, once again, able to get comfortable and take an 18 foot jumper.
They were allowing Rondo to take that jumper all night long and he kept hitting them. Especially in the first half. In the second half Miami changed strategies though. They made the adjustment of switching on the screens instead of going under them. This sets up a much more predictable and isolation offense for the defense to defend against. You’ll see that in the video below.
Here, Rondo gets a screen from Garnett and LeBron switches with Garnett’s man, Udonis Haslem. Rondo clears the floor out and attacks Haslem after the switch. This played right into the Heats hands because they knew what was going to ensue after the switch.
They knew that Rondo would drive on Haslem, but Haslem had enough footspeed to recover and block Rondo’s shot. Though Rondo could’ve done a better job of drawing a foul, Haslem played him extremely well. There were multiple possessions like this.
For the most part, the switching seemed to take the ball out of Rondo’s hands. If it wasn’t for his defensive tenacity Rondo wouldn’t have gotten going in the fourth quarter. With 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter of the game he only had 6 points scored in the second half and only two assists. The switching took a lot of things away from him so Rivers will probably try to counter that.
Though Rondo had a big game, it ended in defeat partly because of the adjustments that Miami had made to slow Boston’s dominance down. To see if they keep up with this strategy remains to be seen, but we’ll likely find out during tonight’s game.