Doc Rivers downplayed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defensive adjustments in Game Two. “We’ll live with the Anthony Parker matchup on Rondo like we did in Game Two,” he said, “and we’re fine with that.”
But it wasn’t a personnel change that was the difference in the Cavs’ strategy from Game Two to Game Three — it was a change of attitude and a change of strategy.
First, Parker suggested that he apply more full-court pressure on Rondo.
“Obviously, he was kind of picking us apart offensively, and it was something that [Parker] suggested,” said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. “He said, ‘I am going to pick him up, work the ball some and see what happens.’ I said, ‘Great.’”
While Parker defending Rondo in the open court seems to be counter-intuitive (Rondo should be able to blow by him at will), it helped set the tone. From the jump, the Cavaliers were more aggressive than the Celtics on both ends of the floor. I don’t want to give Parker’s decision to defend Rondo full-court all the credit, but it helped the Cavs establish an attacking mindset.
Not that Parker’s pressure was the most important adjustment — that would be the Cavs’ decision to limit help off Boston’s shooters. By successfully trying to make Rondo a shooter, the Cavs limited the best aspect of Rondo’s game, his court vision. Rondo wound up scoring 18 points to go along with 8 assists, but his impact was silent compared to his Game Two masterpiece. He took 17 shots to score those 18 points and, while Cleveland was busy building a 19-point lead at the end of the first quarter, Rondo missed six of his first nine shots.
As these playoffs have illustrated, the Celtics go as Rondo goes. In Game Three, with a suddenly limited Rondo forced to shoulder the scoring load rather than being a distributor, the Celtics sank. Even when he was scoring, nothing came easy for Rondo. Cleveland played him about as well as a team can. Now the ball’s in Boston’s court:
How will they attack Cleveland’s new strategy in Game Four?