It was a performance for the ages Sunday as Rajon Rondo led the Celtics over the Cavaliers, 97-87, to even up the series at two games a piece.
Rondo dropped 29 points to go with his 18 rebounds and 13 assists, as he set the tone and pace for the game from the get-go. In fact, Rondo's performance today was only the third time in NBA history that a player accumulated point, rebound and assist totals of that level in an NBA Playoff game (Oscar Robertson- 32 points, 19 rebounds, 13 assists on March 26, 1963 and Wilt Chamberlain- 29 points, 36 rebounds, 13 assists on April 11, 1967). That is some pretty good company to be in, no?
Rondo has given the Cavaliers fits all series, and it hasn't been more obvious than it was today that the Cavs just can't figure out how to stop him.
"He was absolutely sensational tonight," said coach Doc Rivers. "Obviously what he's doing is absolutely unbelievable- the rebounding, the energy that he is playing with. What's funny, the stat that doesn't show... was his ball pressure. I thought that was the biggest part of the entire game."
"I told him in the back [trainer's room], that wasn't just great -- that was special," said Pierce. "Few people in the league can put together a special performance. He's starting to grow, starting to show that on a more consistent basis. When we need a game, he can win us a game and that's what he did tonight."
The Celtics picked up the defensive intensity tonight, something they failed to do in Game 3. With their backs essentially against the wall, they proved to want it more than the Cavs did tonight. The Celtics held the Cavaliers to just 40% shooting, compared to the 60% they allowed on Friday, while outrebounding them 47-33.
"If you look at Game 2 and you look at tonight's game, we were a lot more talkative in those two games," Kevin Garnett said after finishing with 18 points and six rebounds. "Game 3 I thought we were complacent, we sat back and waited on punches to be hit and I thought that tonight we threw punches and actually punched first."
The Cavaliers failed to score a single second chance point tonight, and only were able to muster up seven fast break points. The Celtics, on the other hand, scored 13 second chance points and more than tripled the Cavaliers' scoring output on the fast break with 23 points. It was the "50-50" game that was referenced by Rivers, Rondo, and Garnett that the Celtics won tonight.
"In game 3, they won the 50-50 game," said Rondo. "They had maybe 11 or 12 offensive rebounds in that game, I don't know how many they had tonight but I just try to help the bigs as much as possible."
The Cavaliers only had three offensive rebounds tonight as a team- Rondo had four on his own.
"Just sitting here thinking about it, (Rondo) was getting all the 50-50 balls that were almost out of bounds he was saving them," Garnett said. "He was just controlling the game. When he's playing like that we're hard to beat."
The Celtics certainly were hard to beat tonight, and despite a second half charge by LeBron James and the Cavaliers that saw them take the lead at one point late in the third quarter, the Celtics fought back, going on a 15-2 run to take an 84-72 lead with a little under 7:00 to play in the fourth. Again, the Cavaliers surged back, getting to within two points with 4:02 to play, but the Celtics went on another 11-3 run to close out the game.
LeBron James was held in check tonight, tallying 22 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists- all team highs. It was a group effort on the defensive end, as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Tony Allen each took turns guarding the MVP.
Bench comes through
As well as Rondo performed tonight, the bench stepped up big time offensively and defensively and provided a spark that the Celtics needed to stay ahead of the Cavaliers in the second half.
"Our bench is huge for us, we can't win without them," said Pierce. "We said it from the start of the series; we need different guys on different nights. [In Game 2], Rasheed stepped up. Tonight, it was Tony Allen and Big Baby. It's going to have to come from a number of guys on any given night, but we have to have it."
Tony Allen scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, and was a defensive presence on the opposite end. Allen was active on the court and, along with Rondo, fooled LeBron James twice on the fast break.
"Tony Allen may have been the biggest reason we won after Rondo," Rivers said. "He was just attacking. Our saying with Tony is, ‘Don't let him off the hook,' meaning, don't bail him out with a jump shot. Take it to the basket- that's who you are, and there's nothing wrong with being that."
Allen did attack the basket on numerous occasions, a lot of times after displaying a strong defensive effort on the other end of the court.
"I was just trying to be active on our team defense and I took advantage of that today and I was fortunate enough to convert that in the fourth quarter," Allen said.
Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis also stepped it up defensively for the Celtics. While they only combined to score eight points, their defensive efforts led to transition points on the other end. Wallace blocked two shots and had two steals, while doing a great job of just getting in the way of the Cavaliers.
"We're going to win this series because Rasheed plays defense," Rivers said. "And that's what he did today. You look at his line and he was 0-3; he only had three rebounds. But he was deflecting, blocking shots, clogging the lane, fouling hard. That's what we needed from him, and it was great to see."
Glen Davis rounded out the eight-man rotation used by the Celtics on Sunday, scoring four of his five points early on in the fourth quarter. Again, it was the energy that Davis provided off the bench that was so crucial.
"We need to help this team in any kind of way," said Davis about his and Tony Allen's importance, "and just being energy guys out there playing and making the right plays at the right time."