Five days ago, after a wretched performance from the visitors in the opening game of the NBA Finals, the thought of a Boston Celtics win in Game 2 at the Staples Center was hardly believable. The Celtics had been thoroughly handled by the Lakers in the 102-89 loss – outrebounded 42-31 with zero second-chance points to their name – and they appeared to have lost all semblance of the hustle and desire that marked many of their key wins in the current playoff stretch.
As both teams boarded their flights after Game 2, however, it was those same Celtics who had all the momentum heading back to Boston for the next three games. How did the C’s manage to tie up the series when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce shot a combined 4-for-16 from the floor? Even on a record-setting night for shooting guard Ray Allen, it was Rajon Rondo who turned in yet another MVP-caliber performance to add to his growing resume.
Even more so than his stat line would indicate (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), Rondo’s triple-double was perhaps the best individual performance of the team’s current playoff run – and maybe even the best of his young career. Three plays in particular demonstrate the versatility of the point guard’s game: the Olajuwon dreamshake on Andrew Bynum, the late block on Derek Fisher, and the elbow jumper with less than two minutes to go.
No play stood out more than the elbow J, as the point guard so often criticized for his poor shooting confidently increased the Celtics lead to five late in the game. Rondo’s extra effort in skying for rebounds led to big transition buckets for the Celtics, who outscored the Lakers in fast break points by an 11-4 margin.
When Rondo plays with as much confidence as he did in Game 2, the Celtics can overcome seemingly anything – including poor performances from two of the Big Three. With the extra help of Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis, who combined for 15 points and 14 rebounds off the bench, Rondo was able to stay aggressive even without some of his most crucial weapons as early whistles against Garnett ended the Big Ticket’s night with more fouls (5) than rebounds (4), and Pierce had an invisible Game 2, shooting 2-for-11 in over 40 minutes on the floor.
And though Allen knocked down endless three-pointers in the first half, keeping the Celtics in front and tying an NBA Finals record in the process, it was the second-half performance from Rondo that pushed the Celtics over the edge. The six consecutive points on lay-ups to keep the game even in the fourth, the late steal on Kobe, the block on D-Fish. All are plays that have become increasingly commonplace for the talented point guard, but are nonetheless game-deciding factors in such tightly contested playoff match-ups. And now, for his efforts, the Celtics are headed back to Boston with all the confidence in the world and perhaps the best point guard in the League at their helm. Far cry from five days ago, isn’t it?
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