Key to Celtics victory hangs with Rondo


Key to Celtics victory hangs with Rondo

By A. Sherrod Blakely

MIAMI You have a total of seven players between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat that participated in the All-star game in February, a hard to fathom collection of great talent seldom seen in a second round playoff series.

With so much talent, proven talent over many years, there's one name that seems to keep popping up as the key in this series: Rajon Rondo.

The two-time All-star shook off some not-so-stellar play near the end of the regular season, to bounce back with a string of Rondo-esque performances that once again have the Celtics riding high in the playoffs.

Picked by some to get upset in the first round by the New York Knicks, the Celtics were the only team with a first-round sweep, as they had little trouble in disposing of the injury-riddled Knicks.

Boston had a lot of different players step up in that series, but there was no mistaking how the Knicks were Rondo'd in just about every game.

In the four games, he averaged 19 points, 12 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Sure, Boston has its Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

And yes, all three can play really well.

But the Heat know that limiting Rondo has to be a priority.

"Rondo, we feel is the key to their team," said Miami's LeBron James. "As he goes, they go."

It certainly played out that way during the regular season when these two teams met.

Boston beat the Heat in their first three meetings this season.

Rondo didn't put up huge scoring numbers in those games, averaging just 7.7 points per game.

However, his impact could be felt in the game's tempo being completely at the pace that Boston wanted.

Rondo's ability to break down the Heat's defense opened up scoring opportunities for his teammates, which is clear to see when you notice he averaged 14.3 assists per game.

To put that in perspective, Rondo's assists average was about four fewer than the 18.5 assists per game Miami averaged as a team against Boston during the regular season.

But in the lone Celtics loss to Miami, a 100-77 defeat at Miami on April 10, Rondo had just seven points and five assists - one of his lowest assist games of the season.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra acknowledges that combating Rondo's game will be one of the many challenges his team will face in this series.

"He does a lot of things that are unscripted; that you can't prepare for, that aren't necessarily in your scouting report,," Spoelstra said. "Arguably one of the most unique players in the league."

At 6-1 and a slight build, Rondo has shown the ability to get into the lane as a ball-handler, and surprisingly, as a rebounder as well.

Keeping him out of the paint will be one of the things Miami plans to do.

Making him become more of a jump-shooter is part of the game plan as well.

But with Rondo looking to shoot jumpers more often - and actually having some success - that strategy may not necessarily be the best one to adopt.

"He's not as bad a shooter as people say," said Heat guard Mario Chalmers, who will spend time throughout the series trying to defend Rondo. "His mid-range jumper is pretty good now."

Pretty good might be stretching it, but there's no doubt that it has improved throughout the course of this season.

Lately, Rondo has looked to mix his improved mid-range shooting skills with his usual assortment of drives to the basket and under-the-rim scoop shots.

You can see this play out in his shot attempt numbers in the playoffs (15.5 per game) being significantly more than his regular season average of 9.9 shots per game.

(Rondos) gotten more confident in his style and play, Garnett told reporters from the team's practice facility in Waltham (Mass.). Hes not afraid to hit the 15-17 foot jumper and does a good job of mixing his play. Slow, fast, fast slow; he keeps defense on their heels and we need him to be aggressive all series.

Said James: "He's a great point guard. He gets his own, and he gets those guys going and they are tough to beat."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics get off to strong start, cruise to 118-103 win over Magic

Celtics get off to strong start, cruise to 118-103 win over Magic

BOSTON – Well, so much for the Boston Celtics being hungover following their first loss in more than a month.
If anything, the loss at Miami on Wednesday served as a wake-up call for the Celtics to avoid easing their way into games.
Because the Celtics jumped on the Magic early and never lost control of the game as they cruised to a 118-103 win.

Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 30 points while Terry Rozier came off the Celtics bench to score a career-high 23 points. Nikola Vucevic led the Magic (8-11) with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
After leading by as many as 32 points, the Magic opened the fourth quarter against Boston’s backups, with a 13-3 run that cut Boston’s lead to 102-82.
The Magic would score six of the game’s next eight points before Rozier drained a much-needed 3-pointer that increased Boston’s lead to 107-88 with 6:48 to play.
Following an Orlando timeout, Boston continued to play with a huge lead and in doing so, got a big, bounce-back win.
One of the issues Boston was having, even during the 16-game winning streak, was that they didn’t get off to the greatest starts evident by them trailing by double digits in the first half of each of their previous four games prior to tonight’s game.
But that would not be the case tonight; not even close actually.
Leading 22-19 in the first, Boston went on an 18-7 run to take a commanding 40-26 lead
The 40 points scored were the most they tallied in the first quarter of a game this season.
And while the points weren’t as abundant in the second quarter, Boston’s dominance was just as great.
On this night, the Celtics were an equal opportunity destroyer.
Kyrie Irving had a very Kyrie Irving kind of night with 17 points in the first half.
The Celtics also got an unexpected boost from its bench, led by Rozier who had 13 points in the first half.
It seemed no matter who Brad Stevens turned to off the bench, it was a given that they would have a positive impact on this night.
Meanwhile, the Magic could muster up little fight or resistance as Boston’s lead peaked at 28 points (68-40) before the half ended with Boston in charge with a commanding 73-47 lead.
It’s rare for a team to have such a commanding halftime lead, the kind of lead that makes a team oh-so-vulnerable to a second-half letup.
Not the Celtics; not tonight at least.
Boston continued to play with a purpose; to not just win but do so in an emphatic, consistently dominant fashion.
Sporting a lead of 20-plus points throughout the third quarter, Boston went into the fourth quarter leading 99-69.


Morris returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Magic


Morris returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Magic

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics will turn to a familiar starting lineup as they try to get back on their winning ways following Wednesday’s loss at Miami.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Marcus Morris will be in the starting lineup tonight against Orlando, joining the usual Celtics foursome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.


Morris’ availability tonight was not a given, similar to it being in question prior to Wednesday’s game against the Heat.
Morris has been dealing with soreness in his left knee which kept him out for the first eight games of the season and has limited his playing time since then.
Stevens said Morris will likely not play against Indiana on Saturday but no final decision has been made. Since returning to the lineup, the Celtics have played Morris with a minutes restriction in addition to not allowing him to play in any back-to-back games.

Morris has made it clear that he does not like having his playing time limited while not playing in any back-to-backs, but has repeatedly he understands why it is being done and won’t fight what the coaching and medical staff believe is best for him and the team.