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

Bradley could miss 'a little more time' with Achilles injury

Bradley could miss 'a little more time' with Achilles injury

BOSTON – Wednesday’s 117-106 loss to the New York Knicks was the fifth time in the last six games that Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley was out because of a right Achilles injury.

Well, it appears the 6-foot-2 guard may miss a few more with this injury.

“I can see him missing a little more time,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said following Wednesday’s loss. “I just think maybe he came back a little bit too early, whatever the case may be.”

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Bradley was expected to play against the Knicks, but was a last-minute scratch.

Celtics big man Al Horford said he didn’t find out Bradley was out until the team was on the floor doing pre-game warmups and he didn’t see him.

“He was really sore,” Stevens said of Bradley. “Went through our walk-through and then came on to the court and did some stuff and was more sore today than he has been. I think he did treatment the whole game.”

This latest setback for Bradley is part of a growing narrative that has dogged him throughout his career which has included him missing games to injury in each of his six-plus NBA seasons.

Bradley came into this season once again hoping to be as injury-free as possible, only to see that dream dashed with this right Achilles strain he's suffering with currently.

Still, there’s no downplaying the significance and value the Celtics have in the 26-year-old. This season, he is second on the Celtics in scoring at 17.7 points per game and leads them in rebounds with 6.9 per game with both being career highs. In addition, he averages just under 35 minutes per game which is also tops on the team.

Marcus Smart has been Stevens’ choice to replace Bradley in the starting lineup when Bradley has been unavailable, and that’s not likely to change between now and Saturday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers.