BOSTON — This series may not belong to any particular team at the moment, but it does belong to one player. The East is tied because of Rajon Rondo, the MVP through four games.
Yes, better than LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or any of the Big Three on the Celtics.
Without Rondo, the Celtics would be meeting up with the wrecking ball right now. Instead, they’re headed to Miami for Game 5 and then back to Boston for a Game 6, which seemed unlikely just a few days ago. Rondo has been that good at both ends, and also in giving the Celtics a much-needed jolt of energy and leadership.
This is someone who scored a career-high 44 points, who got Kevin Garnett more involved in the offense, who’s making life hell for the Miami defense and who has been a stabilizing force for Boston whenever things began to sour.
Game 4 was more of the same. Rondo was the main reason the Celtics cruised to 61 points in the first half and led by 18. He had 10 assists by halftime and by spreading the wealth, helped the Celtics put six players in double figures. Even after the Heat began to double him in the second half, Rondo helped make plays that ultimately decided the game.
Also, Rondo has played nearly reckless-free basketball for four games, and after playing all 53 minutes (regulation and OT) in Game 2 went 47 in the OT win Sunday.
He scored 15 points with 15 assists in Game 4. And after Paul Pierce fouled out in overtime, it was Rondo who grabbed his teammates by the collar with a message.
“I told KG that it’s time,” he said. “We have to take the game over. At that particular time in the game, when your leading scorer goes out, you have to step up and make plays. And that’s what we did as a team. I didn’t want to force anything. I didn’t want to be too aggressive because I already had four fouls. I tried to get my teammates involved. It’s not a one-man show.”
Rondo is the only Celtic who has yet to see his production dip this series, the only Celtic who hasn’t had to dig himself out of a rut. Because of his consistency, Boston has a chance to spring an upset, although it will take winning in Miami, something the Celtics haven’t done yet.
Until the Heat figure a way to contain Rondo’s ability to break down the defense and create easy shots for teammates, beating the Celtics will continue to be a struggle.
“Obviously, it starts with him, the head of the snake,” said Wade. “He’s done a good job of rallying the troops and getting them to perform in their roles. We know how valuable he is to them, and what he’s capable of doing to us. So naturally, containing him will be a focus of ours.”
After four games, that focus has only grown sharper, out of necessity.