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."

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart made shots, Jonas Jerebko (10 points) outscored the entire Cleveland second unit by himself, and Kevin Love’s hot hand in the first half cooled off considerably in the second.

It was on so many levels the perfect storm for the Boston Celtics in Game 3 which ended with Avery Bradley getting a friendly bounce or two – OK, it was four bounces to be exact – that would be the difference in Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win, which cut Cleveland’s lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.

But that perfect storm is now a thing of the past, which is why the Celtics are battening down the hatches for Hurricane James – LeBron James – in Game 4.

James scored just 11 points in Game 3 on 4-for-13 shooting.

Certainly, Boston’s defense had a role in James’ struggles.

But after looking to be a facilitator at the start of the game, James never flipped the switch to become a terminator.

So, as his teammates struggled with their shots in the second half, James didn’t ratchet up his aggression level to get buckets and in doing so, was just what the Celtics needed to get a much-needed victory.

Had Boston lost Game 3, this series being over would have been a mere formality with no team in NBA history has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the next round of play.

But the Celtics are very much alive and well with a chance to even up the series at 2-2 with a victory tonight.

If they are to somehow find a way to beat the Cavs on their home floor a second straight game, it’ll most likely come after fending off a strong surge from James.

This season, James has been an offensive power following games in which he has scored less than 20 points in a game.

In the following game after he scores less than 20 points, James has averaged 27.8 points.

And his record in those games during the regular season was 10-3.

“He’s going to be aggressive,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “LeBron James understands how to play the game and he understands what his team needs from him. He’s most likely going to be a lot more aggressive. It’s our job to make sure we defend him as best we can; take other guys out of the game.”

Like Tristan Thompson who had 18 points but only took four shots (he made 3) to get it, as most of his scoring came from the free throw line after getting fouled.

“He had 12 free throws or something like that? He’s playing well for them,” Bradley said. ‘We have to try and limit him to less rebounds. It’s going to be hard. If we’re able to do that and guard the 3, I like our chances.”

Boston’s Al Horford anticipates seeing not just James but the entire Cavs roster try to be more aggressive at the start.

And that means as good as they did in Game 3, they’ll have to be even better tonight.

“On the defensive end, we feel there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement,” Horford told CSN. “We just have to come out and play.”

In Game 3, Boston fell behind by as many as 21 points but for the most part stayed within arm’s reach of the Cavaliers which was a major improvement over Games 1 and 2 in Boston.

And as the Celtics continued to climb back into Game 3, James’ lack of impact plays remained a mystery.

And while there are some who are quick to put Sunday’s loss on James, not surprisingly his coach sees things differently.

“We're all to blame,” said Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue on Monday. “We lost; it happens. For a guy who played great for five straight months, he's got to have a bad game sooner or later. He's human. He didn't shoot the ball well. It wasn't his ordinary game. But Kevin (Love) and Kyrie (Irving) had it going early and they played well, so it kind of got him out of rhythm a little bit in that first half. That's no excuse. Like I said, they played well, but we've just got to play better, be more physical.”

After reviewing the video from Game 3, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was once again impressed with James for the most part making the right basketball play most of the game.

“When you've got guys that are all on fire the way they are, the right basketball play is to find them,” Stevens said. “He just made it over and over.

Stevens added, “The guy is a tremendous basketball player. He makes the right play over and over, and he thinks the game, he sees the game. He's a really good defender. He can read situations. So, I thought he was pretty darned good. But like I said (following Game 3), I'm not going to be critical of the best player in the world.”

Indeed, Stevens has far more important things to worry about, like bracing his players for the impending storm known to all as LeBron James.