By Rich Levine
WALTHAM Back in the 2008 Finals, as the Celtics were on the way to their first title in 22 years and Rajon Rondo (only 22 years old at the time) was still fighting to find his role alongside the Big 3, the Lakers employed unique Rondo-specific defense that gave the young point guard fits.
Basically, Phil Jackson had Kobe guard Rondo, but not really guard him. Instead, having Bryant sag off No. 9, take advantage of his faulty jumper (and confidence) and use the extra space to wreak havoc everywhere else. As Rondo stood on the perimeter, unable andor willing to shoot, Bryant hedged off screens, doubled in the post and in the process essentially rendered Rondo ineffective.
The Celtics pulled out the series, but the blueprint for limiting Rondo had been laid out.
Three years later and that defense is still a hot topic.
Expect a healthy helping as Boston and Miami take off in round two.
Youll see Chalmers and Bibby guarding Rondo, but youll also LeBron and Wade, Doc Rivers said. Theyll go to the Rondo Defense and theyll be trapping off him and helping off him, and how we handle that will be key to this series."
But Rondos come along way since the 2008 Finals. Sure, the Sag-Off-Rondo defense is still probably the best way to defend him, but its not automatic. Hes learned how to beat it or at least, play around it.
The most effective thing he can do is just move without the ball. As hes moving, LeBron or Wade or whoever cant just leave him to trap. If theyre forced to chase Rondo around (especially if he can slash through the lane), so much of their focus will be occupied there, and they can be as helpful elsewhere.
On top of staying active, Rivers highlighted some other ways for Rondo to stay effective: Getting into the offensive pace, he said. Attacking, being a pace-setter. And he does it well, I think hes handled it very well this year.
Kevin Garnett agrees.
(Rondos) gotten more confident in his style and play, he said. 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.
When asked about the potential sagging defense, Rondo was predictably coy, hinting that well all find out the answer on Sunday.
I dont know, he said. Everybody plays different. Well see Game 1.