So many things went wrong yesterday for the Boston Celtics, spanning from their inability to rebound, to Ray Allen’s continued struggles, to Ed Molloy’s quick technical foul whistle, to Miami’s overwhelming athleticism, at least the latter of which doesn’t figure to change at any point during the series.
One aspect of yesterday’s game which Boston can count on to change, writes SB Nation’s Mike Prada, is Rajon Rondo’s underwhelming performance.
Prada noted Miami’s second-half defensive adjustment, when Erik Spoelstra mostly went away from Mario Chalmers as the primary Rondo defender. The Heat coach gave the assignment to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, both of whom can bother Rondo with length, strength and quickness. The two Heat superstars provided plenty of help off Rondo, but the strategy was nothing the Celtics haven’t seen before. The Heat didn’t invent a brand new chemistry equation; they simply substituted a more explosive element to make the resulting compound more dangerous.
Despite James and Wade’s athleticism that allows them to cover more court than almost any other human beings, expect the Celtics to counter that in Game 2 to make the Heat pay for sagging off Boston’s lead guard so strongly.
Doc Rivers will adjust. He’ll send someone to screen Wade and have Rondo make strong cuts to get open. He may even put Rondo on the baseline and run more of the offense through Paul Pierce. The important thing is that he’ll do something to help free Rondo up.
Even if the Celtics do nothing differently in Game 2, Rondo’s output should improve. The Celtics should be encouraged by the notion that Rondo’s performance was close to being quite a bit better.
More importantly, Rondo will simply make the Heat pay more if he converts more layups. Seventeen of Rondo’s 20 shots were in the paint on Monday. Ten of those 17 shots didn’t go in. On the season, Rondo hit 59 percent of his shots at the rim … and that was his lowest percentage since 2008. The Heat contested nearly all of those layups well and actually blocked several, to be fair, but they can’t possibly count on replicating that kind of performance at the rim. If Rondo hits, say, five of those 10 layups, then his stat line looks much more impressive and this game is much closer.
And Rondo could have registered plenty more assists, too. In the first half alone, KG missed a wide open layup (the very first play of the game) and an alley-oop dunk, and also failed to catch a Rondo pass that would have resulted in another naked look from the interior. Add those three assists to Rondo’s total, sprinkle in a few more made jump shots from Brandon Bass, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (who shot a combined 10-for-36), and suddenly Rondo’s 16-points, nine-rebound, seven-assist night could have looked more like 22 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists, and the final score might have been a lot closer.
While the Celtics were busy botching layups inside or being bothered by Miami’s swarming defense (the Celtics, who shot 63.0 percent at the rim this season according to Hoop Data, hit just 15 of 30 such attempts in Game 1), the Heat were converting everything they put up close to the rim against Boston’s normally-stout interior (the Heat hit 17 of 20 such shots in Game 1, for an 85 percent conversion rate well above their 63.9 percent season average). Part of Miami’s heightened success rate was the result of two of the game’s best shot-makers hitting shots, and part of it was that their increased spacing with Shane Battier playing instead of Chris Bosh often kept Kevin Garnett away from the paint. But the Celtics probably won’t hit just 50 percent at the rim for the remainder of the series, nor are the Heat likely to maintain such a lofty conversion rate.
It’s easy to discount the Celtics after they were so handily dispatched in Game 1, and the Heat certainly do provide a stiff test on both ends of the court. But with a few regressions to the mean (Rondo’s interior shots, both teams’ conversion rates at the rim, Paul Pierce scoring more than .67 points per shot), Game 2 could be plenty different.