There were enough All-Stars and future Hall of Famers to satisfy us down the stretch of last night's 88-80 Celtics' win over the Miami Heat. With Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all gracing the hardwood, someone or someones was bound to take over in the waning minutes. In the end, the older trio had the last laugh, as Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, outshone their Sunshine State contemporaries in the final minutes.
But perhaps just as critical as the game's ending was its beginning - where no heroics were guaranteed - and one man, shorter than all of the aforementioned closer candidates, broke the ice of the 2010-2011 NBA season: Rajon Rondo. Things were bound to be a little bit sloppy in the opening 12 minutes for both teams. New season. New teams. A whole lot of hype. No doubt adrenaline played its part, along with expected and warranted opening minute jitters, as shots found iron, passes went awry, and defensive rotations were perhaps a tad bit over aggressive. Both teams were in need of a stabilizer to push things in the right direction. The Celtics found theirs, while the Heat was left looking.
Boston went without a basket for the first three minutes and four seconds, before Rondo drove along the right baseline, skied up, skirted under the rim, and laid in a shot off the glass on the opposite side, tying the game at two apiece.
He wouldn't score again until the fourth quarter. But he didn't need to, as he spent the rest of the game setting up his teammates, both old and new.
Less than a minute after he converted the up-and-under, Rondo threw up a lob pass for Shaquille O'Neal, who slammed it home, after having missed two easy layups earlier in the quarter. On Boston's very next possession Rondo sliced into the lane and dished the ball out to Pierce along the right wing, who rose up and buried his first of three three-point field goals. 45 seconds later, the Celtics were back on the attack, in transition, as Rondo, ahead of the pack, dumped the ball backwards to a hustling O'Neal, who lunged forward and threw down his second slam dunk amidst a slew of wannabe Miami Heat defenders.
Rondo would earn his fourth and fifth assists of the first frame on back-to-back Ray Allen buckets, the first a layup on the left hand side of the rim, and the second a three-pointer from the left wing. The two shots pushed the score to 14-8 in Boston's favor. Rondo wrapped up a stellar first frame by feeding Glen Davis inside for an easy bucket, which gave Boston a 16-9 advantage that they carried into and expanded on in the second quarter. They needed every bit of the 19-point lead that grew out of that seven-point first quarter edge, as Miami pulled within three points late in the fourth quarter. And while Rondo paced his club through an otherwise rocky first quarter, Miami and its stars were left stumbling, hitting just four of their 17 first quarter field goal attempts, while committing six turnovers.
Six of the Celtics' seven first quarter field goals were made by players not named Rajon Rondo, but Rondo assisted on every single one of them. He finished the game with 17 assists - two more than the Heat's total as a team. The 17 could have easily been 20+ had a few very make-able shots been put down by Boston's big men. Still, that fact shouldn't take anything away from the man responsible for 68 percent of his team's total assists in a game for the Celtics where one-on-one basketball was trumped mightily by a belief in ball movement. Of the 32 field goals the Celtics scored, 25 were assisted on, and that's not including the many possessions where sharp passes led to fouls and free throw attempts.
Doc Rivers deemed Rondo "spectacular" afterward - a fitting description for the overseer of the Celtics' offense last night .