Rondo takes the reins and Celtics follow suit

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Rondo takes the reins and Celtics follow suit

MIAMI With a roster full of Hall-of-Famers-to-be, establishing a pecking order of sorts as to who is in charge can be tricky.

When the Big Three came together in 2008, it was Paul Pierce's team.

He's still the captain and remains their best scoring threat on most nights. But Celtics have evolved into Rajon Rondo's club throughout the course of this series.

There will be others who on any given night who may contribute more than Rondo to the Celtics' success. But the more you watch the C's play, the clearer it is that the Celts will only go as far as Rondo is able to lead them.

Accepting that has been an overlooked but important dynamic as the C's have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. With the series tied at 2-2, a pivotal Game 5 takes place tonight in Miami.

"They understand Rondo is the leader of the team," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Everybody else plays with Rondo. Paul is still our best scorer. They've kind of gotten out of each other's way with roles."

While Pierce remains Boston's best one-on-one scorer, he has grown to accept that the success of the Celtics hinges on the play and leadership of Rondo.

"He's the head of the snake on this team," Pierce said of Rondo. "We need him to come out with a vicious bite."

Pierce added: "When he's out there controlling the tempo, pushing the pace, rebounding and passing . . . we almost ask him to try to get a triple-double every night."

What Rondo has done in this series against Miami isn't all that shocking.

He has proven to be at his best in the playoffs, a regular in delivering the spectacular, mind-blowing kind of performance to help the Celtics win tough games.

But there's one difference with this current run by Rondo -- consistency.

In the four playoff games against Miami, Rondo has averaged 17.6 points, 11.7 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game - the kind of numbers only a handful of point guards in the league are capable of delivering.

Those kind of numbers only strengthen the argument that the big-game performances that Rondo has had in the past, are now coming in more steady, more consistent doses.

It's to the point where a 15-assist game for Rondo is just another game.

"He's just a phenomenal talent," said C's guard Keyon Dooling. "He's already doing things that no one in the league is doing, or things that haven't been done before. It's good to see the work that he has put into his game, pay off the way it has. He's one of the best players in the NBA; not just one of the best point guards, but one of the best, period."

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score - and the title - on his final dunk.

"I know I'm a jumper. Like I said, I'm a guy that stays out of the way, but when it's time to shine, that's my thing," Robinson said. "I knew all along I had some things planned and I just wanted to show the world."

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingisof the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

"I thought I would go up against Derrick in the finals," Robinson said. "I've seen the things that he can do. That guy can jump."

Robinson's first dunk was one of his best. He leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slammed it home. He said 2000 dunk champ Vince Carter was one of his primary influences, along with Michael Jordan, of course.

"Vince Carter did one of his best dunks first, and it kind of intimidated people. That's what I wanted to go out and do," Robinson said. "Who knows if it worked, but they missed some of their dunks and it gave me a little more room."

Afterward, he couldn't take his hands off of the trophy - a gold basketball - and made it sound as if that would remain the case through the weekend.

"I know I'm not letting go of her right there," he said. "She's following me everywhere I go. It's Mardi Gras. We're going to have a good time."

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner, who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said.

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

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Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."