For the Miami Heat, the key to winning their Eastern Conference finals best-of-seven series against the Boston Celtics is simple: Stop Rajon Rondo.
“Boston creates so many challenges, you can’t key on just one guy. But I think the biggest challenge is Rondo,” Heat forward LeBron James said of Rondo, who had a major hand in two of Boston’s three victories over the Heat during the regular season.
In Boston’s 91-72 blowout win on April 1, Rondo messed around and got a triple-double: 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists. He also shot the ball well in that game, making seven of 13 shots including 1-for-2 from 3-point range. In a 115-107 Boston win at Miami on April 10, Rondo scored 18 points and dished out 15 assists.
And don’t think one second that Miami wasn’t watching Game 7 of the Celtics-Sixers series when Rondo took over in the fourth quarter, knocking down two long jumpers late and scoring nine straight points to advance the Celtics into the conference finals and set up a rematch with the Heat.
“You can make a case that 60 percent of his impact is out of miscellaneous random plays that you can’t necessarily scheme for,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Rondo. “We have to throw the full respect that he deserves, and that’s multiple players multiple schemes. He’s too smart not to get that kind of respect.”
Rondo is averaging 13 points and almost 10 assists against the Heat. This season he led the league in assists with an 11.7 average — the best of his career — and notched his ninth career postseason triple-double.
Count Philadelphia coach Doug Collins in the Rondo fan club. After his team lost Game 7 in Boston, Collins said the Celtics are more than just the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
”I don’t look at them as the Big Three. I look at them as the Championship Four,” the 76ers coach said. ”Because if you’re going to leave Rondo out, you’re making a huge mistake.”
The Heat will not make that mistake in the conference finals.