By Jon Evans and Sammy Newman Beck
Playoff basketball, the ultimate proving ground that exposes players simply by the nature of the exposure. On the court, the bright lights of the second season reveal what a player is about more than any rash sound bites. Thus far in the Hawks-Celtics matchup, it’s exposed both Rajon Rondo and Mike Bibby, separating those who talk from those who walk.
Bibby emerged as public enemy No. 1 in Boston after calling out the fans earlier in the week. Those at The Garden for game 2 sharpened up the swords for Bibby, booing him whenever he touched the ball. He was also greeted with “Bibby Sucks” “Biiiiiiiiibbbbbbby” and, most apt, “Rondo’s Better”.
“I knew it was going to happen,” Bibby said of the crowd’s reaction. “They played a good game, I’m not really worried about the crowd.”
A rumor floating around the press room had Bibby spotted and harassed by fans at a Boston area mall prior to the game. When asked if he was ever faced with the brunt of a city’s attention Bibby was quick not to give the point to the Boston fans.
“Yeah, in LA” Bibby said of the attention. “It happens.”
An argument can be made that Bibby, by putting his head on the chopping block, was trying to shake off a 2-10 shooting night in game 1; that by channeling his inner-Arenas, he was hoping to crank up the pressure on himself for game 2. Finishing with 12 points, on 2-for-7 shooting and one assist, Bibby did his part to ensure the Hawks likely wont be coming back to Boston this season.
“I didn’t make anything happen for my team today,” Bibby said, “We can’t put the ball in the basket.”
On the other end, Rondo, Bibby’s former disciple, said very little but let his game speak volumes. Rondo finished with 12 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and four steals. Kentucky’s finest made his presence felt all over the court. Playing lock-down defense and silencing doubters by making the Hawks pay when they gave him the open jumper.
“He’s playing good,” Bibby said of Rondo. “We were trying to see what he could do out there. He’s stepping his game up and hitting shots.”
In his playoff debut, Rondo excelled at the role of agitator, using his quickness to take the Hawks out of their offense.
“He’s pressuring the ball as well as he’s had all year,” Doc said. “There’s been times when they literally can’t get into their stuff because of one persons pressure on the ball.”
Rondo was aware of the effect his pressure was having on the Hawks.
“You could kind of sense it,” Rondo said of the Hawks frustration. “Some of the play calling, we knew exactly who they were going to and broke up their plays and made some guys make individual plays which our team defense stopped.”
Such execution doesn’t just happen, it’s a product of preparation. While Bibby can fill up a tape recorder faster than a stat sheet, Rondo’s likely to be the one staying late to study film.
“Rondo by far is the film watcher of the team,” Doc said before the game. “I was really impressed with him in the first practice we had going into the playoffs; we would introduce a play, before we gave the name to it, Rondo was calling ‘3-up’ ‘four-down;’ you don’t see that very often.”
As opposed to Bibby, who seemed at peace with the hoards of reporters waiting at his locker after the game, Rondo was stunned by the dozens of khaki clad press waiting for him to emerge from the showers. While Bibby held serve for as long as anyone would listen, it took Rondo all of three minutes to finish his postgame interviews.
“Yeah I’m pretty happy with it,” Rondo said of his game 2 performance. “I missed some shots late that I work on all the time. That’s part of the game though, you make some you miss some just as long as you take them. The worst thing that can happen is a miss.”
Correction, the worst thing that can happen is talking big and then not doing anything on the court to back it up. Though Celtics fans – from the genuine diehards to the bandwagon jumpers Bibby accurately called out – can all rest assured that Rondo will gladly let others talk while he wins.
I run into “Boston Legend” and Mr. smooth operator Michael Bivens while eating my pre-game meal. We sit down and discuss a number of different things, including his annual Biv25K summer basketball tournament, which we are both hoping can happen this summer in Boston.
(A brief note about the Biv25K. Usually “Biv” puts on this tournament which brings in All-Star squads from Houston, NYC, DC, Atlanta, Philly and Boston. Teams generally consist of NBDL’ers, college stars, and on occasion NBA players (Ricky Davis and Delonte West graced the last tourney). It happens at the famous “Washington Park aka Malcom X Park” in Boston usually in mid July. Word is that “Biv” is trying to make something big go down this year for a finale of the tournament…let’s hope that can happen!)
So Biv then asks me who he should interview ( He is working with a TV station…not sure which one). The choices include Bruce Willis, Bob Kraft, Donnie Wahlberg…I choose the Pats head honcho and Mr. Die Hard. After some more talk both Biv and I head to the floor.
-We are graced in the presence of an incredible 9 year old vocalist who sings the national anthem…so sorry to have forgotten her name.
-Fireworks display is of course off the hook and the crowd is ready to go…
– KG gets called to mid-court to receive his “Defensive Player of the Year” award. He then brings his whole team out with him…classy. The chant of MVP starts ringing in.
-Starts of with a hard foul by Josh Smith which leaves Paul Pierce wincing.
-Pierce takes his FT’s then exits the game, in pain (the Boston faithful must be terrified).
– “Bibby Sucks” becomes the chant…got to love the classy Boston fans.
-KG slams one home and comes out talking trash to Josh Smith.
– Somewhat of a slow quarter as the score is 5 to 5 with 8 minutes left in the 1st.
– The former dunk champ J. Smith lands a monster dunk.
– Joe Johnson (WHY DID THE CELTICS TRADE HIM?!) gets his 2nd foul and heads out of the game with 8 minutes left.
– Posey makes a nice up and under layup.
– Josh Smith turnover (one of many to come).
– We get the word P-Squared will be back, but strained his back (Shout out to the Celtics Doctor—who is also my doctor!)
-Rondo grabs an offensive board and slams it back home. 22-13, Boston’s up with 2 minutes left in the 1st.
– PJ Brown comes in for KG with 1:30 left.
– With 1.1 seconds left in the first, Zaza Pachulla gets an AND1 basket…go figure.
– The Big Green do not end the quarter well—which as you will later see is a trend for this game.
– At the end of the quarter it is Boston 24, Atlanta 20.
–Rondo enters the 2nd with 4 points and 5 assists.
–Pierce is back in the game…thank god!
–Josh Smith bricks another shot…if he only had a jump shot…
–Sam Cassell enters the game shooting while the Celts are killing the offensive glass!
–In 4 minutes Cassell has 8 points on 3 for 5 shooting.
–Josh Smith has another TO.
–Joe Johnson drives to the basket…AND1.
–With 7:20 left in the half Boston is up 35-29.
–The Celtics move the ball well and end up with a Pierce 3 pointer.
–Ray Allen nails a 3.
–Kendrick Perkins gets a baseline dunk. Marvin Willaims responds with a jumper. Then Paul Pierce responds with one of his own.
–48-33 Boston with 4:30 left.
–The turnover ratio is crazy….Boston has 4 while Atlanta has 11.
–Pierce comes out with 3 minutes left and heads into the locker room… just precautionary I assume.
–The C’s are in foul trouble…Pierce, Perk and Powe all have 3.
–Josh Smith sends someone’s shot into the crowd. Posey misses a wide open layup and the C’s foul with .8 seconds left…a coach’s worst nightmare.
–At the half the score is 52-42 Boston.
-Pierce hits a tough 3 to start the half.
-Rondo and Josh Smith get a little physical…as is the whole series.
-Kendrick Perkins gets a “Man” bucket down low…AND1!
-Rondo hits an open jumper (and for everyone who always said he can’t shoot…you’re wrong)
-KG is struggling offensively shooting a miserable 5 for 14.
– The teams trade baskets. 65-52, Boston.
– A steal by Perk leads to another Rajon Rondo jumper. Rajon is now 5 for 7 with 10 points and 7 assists.
– Rajon Rondo creates a steal and finishes on the other end with an open layup.
– Time out Atlanta with the score 71-52, with 3:20 left in the 3rd.
– Bruce Willis is in the building…but I want to know who that lovely young lady is with him…damn!
– Acie Law gets a basket and may be one of the few Hawk players having a decent game (Acie was also one of my favorite college players back at A&M)
– Al Horford makes a nice spin move and gets a bucket but Ray Allen follows with a three.
– 76-56 with 1:10 left.
– Al Horford gets an offensive rebound and slams it home, Celtics then turn the ball over and again do not close out the quarter.
– Going into the 4th the score is: 76-58, Boston.
– The quarter starts with the “Where Is Bibby” chant as he is riding the pine.
–Josh Childress makes a good move to the basket for an AND1.
–The lead is cut to 14 at 78-64 with 10 minutes left.
–Sam Cassell hits a crafty old man’s step back.
–Rondo skips to Posey who nails a 3.
–Posey is then called for a flagrant foul on Josh Smith…drawing Danny Ainge to scream at the refs from the first row.
–Bibby checks back in with 8:40 left, let the boos begin.
–Posy dives on the floor and comes up with a steal that leads to a layup..Tommy Point!
–A fan then heckles big Al Horford and tells him to go back to school…how many chips does the guy have to get!?
–C’s go cold but the game is pretty much over anyways.
–The assist ratio is crazy. Boston 22, Atlanta 9.
–MVP Chant starts again
–With 5:40 left in the game the score is 86-68 Boston.
–KG grabs an offensive board and gets fouled, then proceeds to show the world his pectoral muscle…the man is nuts!
–KG takes a pull-up, off the dribble 3 and hits it!
–Glen “Big Baby” Davis has 5 fouls in 13 minutes.
–Glen “Big Baby” Davis has 6 fouls in 14 minutes…bye Big Baby.
–Tony Allen who hasn’t played all game checks in with 1 minute to go.
–Final Score: 96-77 Boston wins!
–KG finishes with 19 and 10 but shoots a measly 6 for 18. Rondo finishes with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
–The press conference includes KG calling Mike Bibby’s statements “Retarded” which erupts the audience in laughter.
–Ray Allen goes on to say how it all started in Rome when they had their pre-season out there…maybe traveling together does help?
–KG claims Bibby missed the FT’s because of the crowd.
–Coach Rivers states they did not close quarters well and that KG needs to take it inside a bit more…great points Doc.