Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 12:21 a.m. Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Posted: 11:38 p.m. Monday, May 28, 2012
MIAMI — it was a new school version of the old show-and-go, one of the Globetrotter gimmicks in Rajon Rondo’s expansive and elastic repertoire.
The Celtics point guard cupped the ball in one unusually large hand, then whirled in the other direction with his back to the basket, the deception attempting to separate the defender’s eyes from the ball.
But in this case the defender was LeBron James. Thus, the illusion was insufficient.
"Cat quick," is how Celtics coach Doc Rivers described James.
His swat of Rondo’s shot, during a stage of the third quarter in which the Heat created the necessary space, was hardly vital, since it came as the 24-second shot clock expired. still, it was among the signature moments of Monday’s 93-79 victory, a victory that occurred in part because the Heat kept Rondo from authoring a signature performance.
"He’s probably the No. 1 unpredictable guy in our league," James said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra understands.
"It’s extremely tough to scheme against Rondo, he’s that unique," Spoelstra said. "The only thing you can emphasize is you have to make unpre
dictable possession-saving plays as well.
"our guys were able to make plays at the rim when it looked like he had openings."
His guys were able to open the Eastern Conference finals with a win, largely because the opposing point guard was good but not great, solid but not spectacular, at times dynamic but never dominant.
Earlier in the day, James marveled mostly at Rondo’s knack on the glass, in addition to the scoring and passing.
Rondo did enough of all that to get near his 10th career playoff triple-double – 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, not to mention one technical for shoving Shane Battier.
Still, Rondo rarely had the Heat haplessly on its heels.
Instead, he was feeling harried.
"You could see it on his face a little bit," Mario Chalmers said. "We’ve got to keep frustrating him."
"I thought he was reading a lot, instead of just playing on his instincts," Rivers said. "Sometimes his IQ hurts him. You can’t read and play at speed at the same time."
If he can’t find that balance consistently, the Celtics will have trouble taking a game, let alone this series.
As much as the Heat relies upon James to initiate for others, the Celtics are even more dependent on Rondo these days, with Ray Allen clearly hobbled and Kevin Garnett more of mid-range shooter than low-post punisher.
It won’t be enough, then, for Rondo to match James in overall impact, which he couldn’t do Monday. Rondo must exceed what the league MVP provides.
Rondo has a more favorable matchup than James – who inspires Paul Pierce to stir his old bones enough to hassle his longtime rival – although Chalmers competed hard and Norris Cole and Dwyane Wade took a few turns.
But Rondo does not have a co-creator nearly the likes of Wade to share the burden.
Wade was a slow-starter Monday, taking a while to start weaving through the Celtics defense.
But others bought him time – including Mike Miller, benefiting from a loosened back after two days off; Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, active as rebounders and screeners; and Battier, whose three no-jump blocks should be inspirational for the athletically-challenged everywhere.
And, of course, there was James.
There is always James.
"we let LeBron play in extreme comfort," Rivers said.
It wasn’t unblemished brilliance, the sort we saw in the final four games against Indiana.
There were times James settled for long jumpers, others in which he was slow to close out. but, maybe at this point, we’re just expecting perfection, which is why a 32-point, 13 rebound stat line seems tame.
Certainly, there was plenty to admire, from the early steal of a Rondo pass that led to a dainty dunk, to the post of Pierce that led to a feathery fall-away jumper, to the deft bank shot in the lane, to the floater he’s been featuring since facing the Pacers.
"It’s something I have in my bag, if I need to go to it," James said of the floater.
"It’s something I needed in that series, with (Indiana center Roy) Hibbert protecting that rim, and not allowing us to get all the way to the rim at times.
"if I need it in this series, I’ll use it as well."
So he did, converting another of the soft shots that Chalmers has taken credit for teaching him. Chalmers learned the art of the floater as a kid, his father holding up a stick "way higher than Roy Hibbert."
The Heat scaled Hibbert in the last series. Rising above Rondo is a much taller task. Monday, Miami got to a soaring start.