NBA / Jun 4, 2010 / 3:30 pm

Rajon Rondo’s Kryptonite: The Staples Center

Rajon Rondo (photo. Gary Land)

Coming into the Game 1 last night, Rajon Rondo was supposed to be the Boston Celtics’ greatest strength. His playoff numbers were off the charts through the first three rounds, 16.7 points and 10.0 assists a game. People were throwing him into the mix with Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the best point guard in the League. On broadcasts, Jeff Van Gundy was repeatedly saying no single player in the playoffs was having a greater overall impact than the Celtics’ point man. Yet, continuing an unusual trend since the 2008 NBA Finals, Rondo was extremely timid once stepping into the Staples Center.

Even though he had some light back spasms against Orlando and admitted he wasn’t 100 percent heading into the Finals, it begs the question: is L.A. playing Rondo differently than everyone else? Let’s break it down.

Just as was expected out of Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant started the night guarding Rondo. This is nothing new in this matchup. Since Game 3 of the 2008 Finals, the 8-time All-NBA Defensive First Teamer has checked the point guard in an effort to save his legs. Ray Allen is an especially tough match-up for Bryant because of his off-ball movement and the hard screens that are set for him by the Boston big men.

Bryant may be one of the League’s best on-ball defenders when he gets involved in the matchup, but in this instance, he is better served roaming on defense and providing help on the three future Hall of Famers.

Game 1 saw Rondo produce a solid line of 13 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Not bad, but far short of what Boston fans expected out of him after the way he abused Mo Williams, Jameer Nelson and anyone else who played him in the last two rounds.

In those rounds, much of Rondo’s success came off high screen and rolls with either Rasheed Wallace or Kevin Garnett. Wallace and Garnett are both outstanding jump shooters and popped off the pick 90 percent of the time. This allowed Rondo to either get a switch onto a big man or have a step on his defender. Once getting into the lane, he was either hitting floaters or more often, threading crisp passes to teammates for layups.

However, there are a few key differences in the way the Lakers’ play this. First of all, Bryant gives Rondo’s jumper no respect whatsoever and doesn’t body up until Rondo is in the paint. It’s a different look – Williams and Nelson often met him at the three-point line – and causes hesitation on the young point guard’s part. Also, the Cavs and Magic sport the ideal power forwards for Rondo to expose. Both Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis are 6-9 and slight for the position. In the lane, Rondo didn’t have trouble getting shots over them and that went for the rest of his teammates, especially Big Baby Davis, once he got them the ball.

The Lakers are the complete opposite with their huge frontline of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

Another key component of both Rondo’s game and the C’s attack are his baseline drives that typically yield kick outs and open threes for Paul Pierce, Allen and Wallace. But the Lakers are way too long for those to work. Throughout Game 1, Rondo found himself stuck on the baseline, forcing up tough reverses that were blocked numerous times by Odom and Gasol.

Cleveland and Orlando combined to have one real shot-blocker meeting Rondo at the rim. When L.A.’s bigs are emotionally involved, they alone have three. Also, the Lakers have the most physical backcourt in the entire league with Derek Fisher, Bryant and Ron Artest.

Also, Boston is especially dangerous in the open court because of Rondo’s vision and speed. He has the shiftiness to get all the way to the rim, but is often looking for open teammates. At home, this is lethal and Boston thrives off Rondo’s cross-court transition finds, constantly getting Pierce and Allen open threes.

In Game 1, the Celtics were just 1-10 from the arc. Part of the Celtics lack of a transition game was because of the Lakers glass dominance, 42-31. The other part was the fluidity of L.A.’s offense: no quick threes or off-balance shots led to 48 percent shooting. It effectively killed any break opportunities for Rondo. The Celtics had only five fast break points.

These schemes worked against Rondo in L.A. during the 2008 Finals when he was a non-factor during the middle games. Overall, in his last six visits to the Staples Center, Rondo is averaging a pedestrian 9.8 points and 6.7 assists on 39% shooting. In Game 1, his plus/minus ratio was the worst of any player at -17.

For his opportunities to improve in Game 2, Boston must spread the floor better. Last night with Jesus in foul trouble throughout, Tony Allen played 17 significant minutes. As a team, the visitors shot just 43 percent for the game. It will be interesting to see what Doc Rivers decides to do about that. It’s increasingly obvious the Celtics can’t play numerous guys who can’t hit perimeter shots like Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins. There was no room in Game 1 for Rondo to create. Because of this, expect to see more Wallace as the series goes along.

Obviously he’s improving and is a different guy than he was as a second-year player and even last year. And although he momentarily seemed gimpy after a collision with Artest, the back spasms don’t seem to be a huge cause for concern with Rondo. But, Boston needs a reversal of aggression from him in Game 2 if they hope to win this series.

What do you think?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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  • control

    I think Rondo is way overrated. As mentioned in the article, if you just play off Rondo and have enough speed to at least keep up with him, then it negates his entire game. His being one of the worst shooters in the league didn’t matter when you have two of the worst defensive guards in the league on him (Mo and Jammer).

    Rondo is good at two things, passing to teammates and getting into the lane. Take those two things away from him and he’s completely useless. Play 10 ft off him if he’s outside of the key…even if he rocks two or three shots in a row, you know statistically he’s going to even it out with eight bricks.

  • Twon

    @Control im Withcha on that.

  • Shakers

    Control, you mean your not an enormous Rondo fan?

  • Rafa23

    so much fail in that whole comment… just WOW

  • TL

    Rondo need to knock down some of those open 3s that Kobe is giving him to keep Kobe honest. Kobe was literally camping in the paint all night and playing mainly help defense.

  • kobeeeeee

    yeah. he has the possibility now to show that he is better than paul since he has the ring. I do not think paul would be limited like by the lakers like that.

  • SlimeBucket

    Chris Paul could be the best point guard since Magic Johnson. If Chris Paul were playing on the Celtics last year instead of Rondo without KG they would have come out of the East and might have beaten LA. I don’t like the way he cheats on offensive by pushing off so much but if you were a GM you got to take Chris Paul over Rondo. I would take Chris Paul over anyone but LBJ and Kobe unless Dwight gets more skilled on offense with Durant also in the discussion. In other words, Chris Paul is a top 5 player right now.

  • SlimeBucket

    And Rondo ain’t even top 10.

  • sh!tfaced

    And all this time we thought Rondo’s kryptonite was his outside shooting…?

  • Roman

    Rondo’s kryptonite is length in the paint. He tried that streetball ish and they where having none of it. funny how he can be great one day and quiet the next.

  • control


    I’m sure Rondo doesn’t mind some length in his taint…

  • cj

    roman your a coward

  • Lady Luck

    Kobe Bryant is a great defender. He is able to play off Rondo because he is not a good shooter, but he is also able to recover and direct him to shot blockers. Mo and Jameer don’t have the same recovery quickness or length as Kobe. I don’t expect that Rondo will put up the same numbers against Kobe as he did in the earlier rounds. As the article stated, Kobe and the Trees make life difficult for Double-R.

    Much like Phoenix did with Artest, the Lakers will do to Rondo. Leave him open and take their chances that he can win a game on his jump shot.

    Rondo probably will have a higher assist total in game 2 due to the presence of Ray Allen on the floor. I don’t expect that he will be in that much foul trouble again.

  • JD

    The biggest thing for Rondo is he needs to have CONFIDENCE in his shot. Idiots like control have no idea what they are talking about. He is not THAT bad of a shooter.
    But when he sees Kobe playing that far off him, he starts questioning himself: “Should I take the shot? Should I run the offense?”
    He just needs to take shots and attack Kobe. Get the ball and run. He is a good finisher, but nobody can finish when you hesitate and allow the defense to get set. Rondo has to be decisive and attack when he has the opportunity. Kobe is not fast enough to keep him out of the paint. No one is. Attack, Rondo, attack.

  • control


    Nobody cares WHY Rondo is one of the worst shooters in the NBA, just that he IS one of the worst. If he fixes it, good for him. It might ruin part of his game though, if he was a decent shooter then he would start to be defended off the ball, which would ruin his rebound numbers and eliminate his easy backdoor cuts.

    Rondo aint a fucktard at the free throw line because defenders leave him open…

  • http://www.nba.com smoove chips

    @ JD
    gotta agree.he’s an improved product and not someone you leave the fluck wide open.he is a factor on passing and his midrange game can be havoc when his confidence is popping.the latter in this case opens the game up for the former.
    kobe’s lack of trust in that J is an opening gambit as well as a defensive liability for the lakes squad.kobe is in case anyone forgot a lockdown defender when he wants to be.
    either rajon shuts himself down or kobe does.the key to this series is in rondo not featuring and by assigning kobe to him we tryna make sure that doesn’t happen.if this were mike brown coaching I’d call lal in 5.i’ve seen doc @ work..
    LAL in 7.

  • Atom

    Nice analysis. Some solid basketball coverage Dime. Who knew?

  • ENEW

    Rondo’s game has been growing in front of our eyes. Eventually he will start knocking down that shot. Lets remember the challenge it is to play the point guard position with three hall of famers on the court with you, which Rondo has done quite well. Rondo must be aggressive, at the same time he must get KG and Ray in rhythm early and often.

    However, if the Celtics don’t rebound and create transition opportunities it doesn’t matter if Rondo makes jumpers, they must win the battle of the boards and get stops.

    Game 2 is a must win, Rondo will have much to do with it.

  • http://www.planetcob.com big papa smurf

    EPIC FAIL. Deron > Rondo > Nash > CP > Evans > Rose > the rest