MIAMI – So the Boston Celtics’ formula for beating the Miami Heat is clear now: Just get point guard Rajon Rondo to do everything he did in his monstrous Game 2 performance Wednesday night all over again. And then wring five more points out of him, somehow, some way.
All Rondo did in Boston’s 115-111 overtime loss at AmericanAirlines Arena was give an NBA playoff for the ages. He scored 44 points on 16-of-24 shooting, passed for 10 assists, grabbed eight rebounds with three steals and did it while playing all 53 minutes. There were a bunch of players logging heavy court time – eight guys in all were in for at least 43:21. But Rondo’s only breathers came in the quarter breaks and in timeouts. When the game was on, so was the Celtics’ mercurial playmaker, who didn’t sound impressed afterward.
“It’s kind of irrelevant,” he said in a man-of-few-words stint on the postgame podium. “We lost.”
Rondo was ticked off. He felt he got hit in the face – and ignored by the referees’ whistles – on a drive to the hoop at 105-105 in overtime. He eluded Miami’s Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade, but appeared to get whacked by Wade as he soared past. Instead, his off-balance reverse layup was treated as just another miss, and Haslem’s dunk at the other end gave the Heat a lead it never lost.
Rondo scored all 12 of Boston’s points in the overtime. He had 22 points by halftime, 14 of them in the second quarter when the Celtics opened a 53-46 lead. He found teammates, he took his turns defending against both Wade and LeBron James. Heck, Rondo even hit jump shots, an unexpected wrinkle that might have raised eyebrows in the White House (President Obama once joked about the sensitive guard’s shooting ability).
All the praise that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been heaping on Rondo since before the Eastern Conference finals began – throwing around words like “maestro” and “genius” – were on full display in Game 2. And the guy who has seen and profited most from Rondo’s unpredictable wizardry was effusive on an otherwise downer night.
“He was absolutely phenomenal,”Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “Put the whole team at times on his shoulders. You know, it’s tough to have him play that way and not win the game, honestly, because he did basically everything right.”
The shooting? Rivers said it was a direct result of Miami defenders going “under” on pick-and-roll coverage and Rondo finding his most comfortable spots, such as the elbows of the free-throw lane. Wade said the Heat did a better job of taking that space away from him in the second half but, ultimately, “he was feeling it tonight and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Said James: “The performance he put on tonight will go down in the record books. He played the whole game. He made all the plays, and tried to will his team to a victory. He’s an elite player … and gave everything he had.”
The Celtics, by their coach’s admission, were distracted by what they felt was lopsided officiating – Rivers noted that James alone shot 24 free throws to his team’s 29, the Heat got 47 chances from the line and three Boston players fouled out. Distracted or not, though, there was a sense of pride in their play and a real appreciation for what Rondo did. The torch has been getting passed for a couple of seasons now – original Big Three as the Celtics’ driving force to their sinewy point guard – but it felt complete Wednesday.
“We feed off what he’s doing now,” Ray Allen said.
They feed off Rondo, who offered up a bountiful game, and still the Celtics came away hungry.