Key to Celtics victory hangs with Rondo

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Key to Celtics victory hangs with Rondo

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI You have a total of seven players between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat that participated in the All-star game in February, a hard to fathom collection of great talent seldom seen in a second round playoff series.

With so much talent, proven talent over many years, there's one name that seems to keep popping up as the key in this series: Rajon Rondo.

The two-time All-star shook off some not-so-stellar play near the end of the regular season, to bounce back with a string of Rondo-esque performances that once again have the Celtics riding high in the playoffs.

Picked by some to get upset in the first round by the New York Knicks, the Celtics were the only team with a first-round sweep, as they had little trouble in disposing of the injury-riddled Knicks.

Boston had a lot of different players step up in that series, but there was no mistaking how the Knicks were Rondo'd in just about every game.

In the four games, he averaged 19 points, 12 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Sure, Boston has its Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

And yes, all three can play really well.

But the Heat know that limiting Rondo has to be a priority.

"Rondo, we feel is the key to their team," said Miami's LeBron James. "As he goes, they go."

It certainly played out that way during the regular season when these two teams met.

Boston beat the Heat in their first three meetings this season.

Rondo didn't put up huge scoring numbers in those games, averaging just 7.7 points per game.

However, his impact could be felt in the game's tempo being completely at the pace that Boston wanted.

Rondo's ability to break down the Heat's defense opened up scoring opportunities for his teammates, which is clear to see when you notice he averaged 14.3 assists per game.

To put that in perspective, Rondo's assists average was about four fewer than the 18.5 assists per game Miami averaged as a team against Boston during the regular season.

But in the lone Celtics loss to Miami, a 100-77 defeat at Miami on April 10, Rondo had just seven points and five assists - one of his lowest assist games of the season.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra acknowledges that combating Rondo's game will be one of the many challenges his team will face in this series.

"He does a lot of things that are unscripted; that you can't prepare for, that aren't necessarily in your scouting report,," Spoelstra said. "Arguably one of the most unique players in the league."

At 6-1 and a slight build, Rondo has shown the ability to get into the lane as a ball-handler, and surprisingly, as a rebounder as well.

Keeping him out of the paint will be one of the things Miami plans to do.

Making him become more of a jump-shooter is part of the game plan as well.

But with Rondo looking to shoot jumpers more often - and actually having some success - that strategy may not necessarily be the best one to adopt.

"He's not as bad a shooter as people say," said Heat guard Mario Chalmers, who will spend time throughout the series trying to defend Rondo. "His mid-range jumper is pretty good now."

Pretty good might be stretching it, but there's no doubt that it has improved throughout the course of this season.

Lately, Rondo has looked to mix his improved mid-range shooting skills with his usual assortment of drives to the basket and under-the-rim scoop shots.

You can see this play out in his shot attempt numbers in the playoffs (15.5 per game) being significantly more than his regular season average of 9.9 shots per game.

(Rondos) gotten more confident in his style and play, Garnett told reporters from the team's practice facility in Waltham (Mass.). Hes not afraid to hit the 15-17 foot jumper and does a good job of mixing his play. Slow, fast, fast slow; he keeps defense on their heels and we need him to be aggressive all series.

Said James: "He's a great point guard. He gets his own, and he gets those guys going and they are tough to beat."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Danny Ainge made no secret of being miffed when Kansas small forward Josh Jackson canceled his workout with the Celtics in Sacramento at the last minute. 

The Celtics, of course, passed on Jackson and selected Jayson Tatum of Duke with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough's comments at Jackson's introductory press conference lend some credence to the theory that the canceled workout was part of Phoenix's plan to keep the Celtics from selecting Jackson and leave him for the Suns at No. 4.

Check out this portion of Jackson's presser via a tweet from Mike McClune of KPHO-TV: 

"I think you guys who know me well know how competitive I am. Look, it is a competition," said McDonough, a former assistant GM to Ainge with the C's "The Celtics were ahead of us at No. 3 and they could have selected whoever they wanted to. I think they got a very good player in Jayson Tatum, but that doesn’t mean B.J. [Armstrong, Jackson's agent] and I and...other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place we felt he really wanted to go and would be a great fit for him.

"We played by the rules – I guess,” McDonough said to some laughter in the room.

Jackson will certainly get more playing time with the rebuilding Suns that the contending Celtics. Ainge called Jackson "a terrific kid and a good player” after the draft, and said the Celtics were set on Tatum all along, even if they hadn't traded the No. 1 pick.

Jackson said his decision to blow off Ainge coach Brad Stevens and assistant GM Mike Zarren after their cross-country flight was "last-minute" and his plans to work out "just didn't work out."
 

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players.