Post Up: Rondo Not Enough

by May 31, 2012

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

Heat 115, Celtics 111 (OT) (MIA leads 2-0)

“We lost… Simple as that.” — Rajon Rondo

I feel you, Rajon. But with all due respect—notwithstanding the proportional weight of a single game in a best-of-seven series—Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals was anything but, “Simple as that.”

Far from it.

In what was easily the best game of the ‘12 Playoffs thus far, the Miami Heat erased their largest postseason deficit in franchise history to outlast the Boston Celtics in overtime, 115-111. Rajon Rondo played the best game of his career, putting on a performance that will be talked about and referenced five, 10, maybe even 20 years from now. Rondo played all 53 minutes of the game, scoring a career-high 44 points, dishing out 10 assists and grabbing eight rebounds.

But in the end, it was all for naught. LeBron James scored 34 points and grabbed 10 boards, Dwyane Wade scored 8 of his 23 points in overtime, the Heat’s bench outscored Boston’s 25-7 and Miami executed down the stretch to emerge victorious and take a commanding 2-0 series lead.

It was a game more reminiscent of a boxing match than a basketball game—both teams traded body shots for the first 48 minutes, with the Heat ultimately landing a few haymakers in the extra session to prevail. Games like these—the ones that you know you had in your grip but just let slip away—usually leave teams salty, possibly a little discouraged.

But this one hurts much, much more. When the final buzzer sounded, the still-very-conscious Celtics, just like a decent portion of America, were distraught, demoralized and confused. What? How? Boston shot 49 percent from the field, controlled the first half and led by 5 points with three minutes to play. The Celtics held both Wade and James to zero field goals in the fourth quarter, and scored 99 points in regulation, the most the Heat have allowed all postseason. And all of this occurred under the umbrella of one of the best performances ever seen, as Rondo became the first player in League history to post 40-10-8 in a playoff game. The Celtics emptied the tank and gave the Heat their best possible game, but still lost. This one hurts.

Miami was down by as much as 15 in the first half, but cut the deficit towards the end of the second quarter. Boston led 53-46 at halftime, behind Rondo’s 22 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds. Rondo was aggressive as hell in the first two frames, getting to the free throw line 12 times after shooting zero free throws in Game 1. He was responsible, either by scoring or distributing, for 36 of Boston’s 53 points, and personally outplayed both LeBron and Wade.

At halftime, the box score read: Rondo: 22, 4, and 7. James and Wade: a combined 15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.

But in true Heat fashion, Miami came out firing in the second half. Two three-pointers from LeBron, two consecutive jumpers from Wade, and an and-1 from Udonis Haslem gave the Heat a 73-71 lead with 2:55 left in the third. After going 5-13 inside 5 feet in the first half, in the third quarter Miami went 7-8 from indoors to take the lead. The Heat stretched their lead to as many as seven in the third, ending the quarter on a 15-4 run to create a 81- 75 advantage entering the fourth.

A few minutes into the final frame, with the Heat leading 85-81, LeBron pick-pocketed Rondo and drove down the court gaining steam to elevate for one of his trademark fast-break dunks. But Mickael Pietrus wrapped up Bron, resulting in a clear-path foul. Only James missed both free throws and Mike Miller missed a three-pointer on the subsequent possession to negate the clear-path and keep the Heat’s lead at four.

Less than a minute later, Miami’s lead was gone. Pietrus sunk a trey, and Rondo followed with a steal and layup to put Boston up one, 86-85. Paul Pierce—who finished with 21 points and 6 rebounds in 42 minutes before fouling out—hit a jumper to give Boston a five-point lead with 3:50 left. But of course, the Celtics’ lead was soon gone, too. Miami scored the next nine points, and a Haslem jumper with 1:08 remaining put Miami up 98-94.

With the Heat’s lead shrunk to three, an ailing Ray Allen, who provided 13 points and 5 rebounds in a whopping 43 minutes (#salute, Ray), sunk a three-pointer with 34.3 seconds to tie the game at 99.

On the last possession of regulation, LeBron had two tries to win the game, but missed both. He first missed a layup, then grabbed the rebound off of his own miss and rose up for a fade-away jumper over Rondo. No good. Why did LeBron, one of the strongest and most explosive players in the League, choose to shoot a fade-away over a dude six inches smaller than him? Not enough room to dissect that in this post, but if you feel the urge, feel free to give your take down below.

In overtime, it was Rondo vs. the Heat. After a few back-and-forth possessions between No. 9 and Miami, the Heat capitalized on a Rondo missed layup (Rondo got hit in the face by Wade on the play, but the refs inexplicably didn’t call a foul), with Haslem converting on an easy dunk to put the Heat up 105-103. And after a turnover on the next Celtic possession, Wade drove the lane, switched hands mid-air and bounced in an acrobatic and-1 layup in Kevin Garnett’s face. Poof. That was pretty much it; 115-111, Heat win.

Rondo scored all 12 of Boston’s points in overtime, and finished 16-24 from the floor and 10-12 from the foul line, but it wasn’t enough. Mario Chalmers had an impressive performance for the Heat, scoring 22 points, and Haslem finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Last night was one of those times that, no matter the circumstance, you weren’t going to miss even one second of the game. If you had to use the bathroom, you waited until a commercial break. If you had to pick up your spouse from the train station, or scoop up your child from a friend’s house, you lied and told them you were on the way, but stayed put, even if you could’ve paused the game to go and get them. Rajon Rondo was putting on one of the best hero-ball (positive connotation, obviously) performances in NBA history, playing all 3,180 seconds and doing everything he could possibly do to keep the Celtics in the game. Jumpshots—Rondo was 10-12 from outside 15 feet—driving layups, step-back threes, whatever. He got it done. He abused Wade, LeBron, Chalmers and whoever else the Heat stuck on him. It didn’t matter. But again, in the end, it was all for naught.

Now the series heads to Boston on a quick turnaround, with Game 3 tomorrow night. Did the Heat merely hold serve, protecting their home court through the first two games, or was this something more? Can the Celtics rejuvenate and recreate the energy and focus of Game 2 with practically no time to recover? Can Rajon Rondo do this—and more— consistently enough to give the Celtics a chance in this series? It’ll be tough for Boston to comeback, and at the moment the Celtics’ chances look bleak, but if they can put this one behind them and solely focus on the next two games, they have a chance.

After Game 7 of the Celtics-Sixers series, I wrote that the Eastern Conference Finals should be exciting, and ended the recap with, “This is going to be great.” In retrospect, all I can say now is, I’m sorry.

Great? What an understatement.