BY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]
The Heat know all about Rajon Rondo.
If anyone thought the Celtics point guard would somehow slip Miami's gameplan -- for even a split second -- as it focused on the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Heat showed early in Monday's opener that Rondo was definitely on its radar.
“Rondo is a basketball maestro, he really is,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the Heat won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals with a 93-79 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“He's one of the most unique players I have seen in this league. We know what he is. What is part of his greatness is his utter unpredictability. You don't know where he comes up with that great play. He has great timing, knows the moment and what his team needs most. And it can be anything.''
Mario Chalmers was offered up a major key to this series not only from professional pundits – but from his own teammates as well.
Chalmers had his moments in Miami's semifinal win against Indiana, but is being counted on perhaps a little more heavily against the Celtics because of the Rondo Factor. Chalmers is going to get – and on Monday did receive – a lot of defensive help against the former Kentucky point guard. But a big chunk of the defensive responsibility falls on Chalmers.
“He's the head of their team so we're trying to make it tough on him,'' Chalmers said after he ended the night with nine points. “He didn't shoot the ball well, but you know he's going to come back. You have to be ready.''
On Monday, Rondo didn't get a chance to really get into his game – or at least as much as he wanted too. Rondo was held to 16 points – which is around his season average against Miami. His seven assists were one of his lowest of the postseason.
That doesn't mean the storm has passed for the Heat. Far from it. Rondo can bring it at almost any time.
“He's the motor for that team, can make so many plays,'' Spoelstra said. “We have to step up to the challenge. We have a whole heck of a lot of people guarding him with a lot of energy. There's going to be a lot of activity.''
As Spoelstra promised, the Heat did throw a lot more than just Chalmers or even rookie Norris Cole at the shifty Rondo.
In the opening period, Rondo found space on the hardwood, well, hard to come by as Miami shut things down. Starting center Ronnie Turiaf clogged the lane on a couple of early Rondo drives to the basket and it looked like he was starting to get frustrated in that period and tried forcing things a little too much.
Rondo's line in the first 12 minutes of the game: Zero points, two assists and four turnovers.
Things opened up a little bit for Rondo in the second as he was able to drive the lane uncontested for his first points to bring the Celtics within nine at 28-19.
Not long after getting his shot blocked by Chalmers, Rondo recovered and scored on a layup to make it an eight point game. Rondo had a nice second period, later scoring on a jumper and another layup to give him eight points in the quarter.
In the third period, the Celtics looked to make a run at the Heat – but Rondo found Miami's big players getting in the way of what he wanted to do.
Midway through the period, Rondo drove the basket but found Shane Battier waiting for him. Rondo spun and went to post, but LeBron James was behind him and smacked the ball away, the buzzer going off on the shot clock.
It was that kind of night for Rondo and the Celtics. Frustration?
“You could see that on his face a little bit,'' Chalmers said. “He wasn't able to get where he wanted to go, couldn't get his teammates involved. We have to keep doing that.''