By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Rajon Rondo is a good defender, one of the best in the NBA.
Against point guards, he's great.
An undersized shooting guard here and there, he can more than hold his own.
But LeBron James?
James wasn't exactly Rondo'd on Sunday, but Rondo did just enough to pester James into a less-than-stellar performance that was a big part of the Celtics' 85-82 win.
No individual or team will shut James down.
He did finish with a respectable 22 points, even if he needed 21 shots to get it.
But Rondo's ball pressure forced James into doing the two things he dreads the most -- picking up his dribble and looking to score in the post.
Because Rondo's hands are so quick, James couldn't back him down while dribbling, which is what he usually does when teams put a smaller defender on him.
And on the few times he was able to get Rondo backed down into the paint, the C's came with a help defender that forced James to either stop his dribble and pass or take a contested shot.
It was . . . brilliant.
Before you start patting Celtics coach Doc Rivers on the back for having the coaching acumen to make such a bold adjustment, he's quick to tell you the truth of how the move came about.
"It was Rondo's idea," Rivers said. "I told him to pressure the ball. He took that to mean, whoever brought it up. I didn't mean that. He took it that way, and then I stayed with it."
Rondo's defense on James helped the Celtics erase a three-point deficit at the half and race ahead to a lead that peaked at 13 points two different occasions.
At the half, Rondo said Delonte West, a former teammate of James in Cleveland, was among those to tell him to try and pick up the tempo.
"The only way I could do that was pressure the ball," Rondo said.
And with the Heat, usually the ball was in James' hands.
"Rondo's a very good player," James said. "He's definitely going to pick up full court no matter who is handling the ball. He's very long. He can use his length, but it didn't bother us that much."
Anyway, Rondo's defense was one of the many wrinkles the Celtics threw at the Heat.
Although it was successful, the Celtics seemed poised to switch out of it during a timeout, or so some -- OK, Rondo -- thought.
"When I didn't say anything," Rivers said. "Rondo was surprised."
In addition to his defense, Rondo also picked up the tempo offensively for the Celtics.
By the end of the game, he had his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
"Everything he did on both ends of the court, he went from pressuring the ball to pushing the ball, really set the tempo in the second half," said Paul Pierce.
And as Rivers sat at a podium following the win, he still hadn't made heads or tails as to how it all worked.
"That matchup makes no sense, honestly," Rivers said.
Maybe not, but it's impact was undeniable.
"It gave us life, because he was trying so hard, working so hard, it forced everyone else to join in," Rivers said.