They needed him to be a playmaker. And that's what Rajon Rondo was, sparking the offense and driving the Celtics to a 24-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, before the Lakers staged a furious comeback that put the Celtics on their heels as they closed out a 108-102 victory in Game 2 last night.
Although he scored just 4 points on 1-of-4 shooting, Rondo, the second-year guard out of Kentucky, more than helped facilitate the offense by dishing out 16 assists, easily surpassing his playoff high of 13, which he achieved twice in this postseason.
In the Finals, Rondo has 23 assists against only four turnovers. Last night he accounted for more than half of Boston's 31 assists on 36 field goals.
"That's what I take pride in, getting guys the ball," Rondo said. "Like I said, tonight they made shots. I just got them the ball."
"Yeah, it was great," coach Doc Rivers said. "I told you guys after Game 1 . . . I thought we could have gotten into the paint more off dribble penetration, so that's what we worked on yesterday, and he was terrific with it.
"And then the second thing, and I'm still not very happy about it, we just aren't posting the ball up enough, in my opinion, and we have to do that more.
"But we solved the first one, so now we have to work on the second one."
Rondo has exhibited some hesitancy shooting his jumper, converting just 5 of 14 from the field this series and missing both of his 3-point tries.
Asked if that was becoming a concern, Rivers said, "I don't worry about it. He's getting better at it. If he doesn't shoot the jumper, we just want him to make quick plays, quick decisions.
"I thought down the stretch, it wasn't just Rondo, I thought overall we all did that.
"We'll watch film and show Rondo where his spots, where his shots are," Rivers added.
"We've got to convince him that it's all right to miss a shot and then take another one and then take another one. If they're going to leave you open, you've got to keep shooting it or making plays."
Subject to opinionNBA commissioner David Stern met with the media before Game 2 and offered his thoughts on a number of topics.
On whether the NBA communicated with the courts its recommendation on the sentencing of former referee Tim Donaghy: "The answer to that is yes, I believe, but only to the extent of correcting what we thought were errors in his attorney's letter about what the NBA may have done or didn't do. In other words, we wanted the court to know we had no influence whatsoever on the investigation of the codefendants.
"It was suggested that we had, and in fact we were very much at arm's length. So other than correcting the record that might have been set by that letter and indicating that we were, in fact, damaged monetarily, because that's one of the restitution issues, that's it. We didn't go deeper and recommend a particular sentence or not."
On the league's outreach to earthquake victims in China: "We will be amplifying our efforts of earthquake relief. This is a terrible tragedy, and the NBA wants to be solidly on the side of all those who are helping to have our friends in China dig out from this terrible situation."
On whether former Celtic Kevin McHale would have been suspended for his clothesline takedown of the Lakers' Kurt Rambis in the 1984 NBA Finals: "I think there might have been some games lost by the player involved."
Whether the league will start penalizing players for flopping next season: "It's not the best part of our game, because it's either designed to fool the official or to make the crowd think that the official did a bad thing by not giving him a call. So we're struggling with exactly how the best way to deal with it, if at all."
On switching the format of the NBA Finals from 2-3-2 to 2-2-1-1: "Everything is open. We'll take it up if the board wants to do it. We're not married to that."
He packed punchWhen he entered the game with 44.3 seconds left in the first quarter, Leon Powe, the second-year power forward out of the University of California, left little doubt who was the best former Pac-10 player on the floor. Powe induced Jordan Farmar (UCLA) to commit his first personal, then stymied Luke Walton (Arizona) on the defensive end, and earned three straight trips to the line, where he converted 5 of 6, at the start of second quarter. Powe finished with a career playoff-high 21 points in just 14 minutes, shooting 6 of 7 from the field (including a jolting breakaway dunk in the third quarter) and 9 of 13 from the line . . . Kendrick Perkins, who had been a game-time decision with his sprained left ankle, wound up starting and giving the Celtics almost 14 minutes. Perkins totaled 7 points and three rebounds . . . Sam Cassell played just six minutes in the first half before leaving with a sprained right wrist. He didn't return to the game . . . Throughout the playoffs, the Celtics have been greeted by handmade signs posted on four utility poles along Winter Street leading to their practice facility in Waltham. The first three read: "Celtics Pride," and "17," and "Bench," while the fourth lists the number of wins the Celtics have recorded this postseason with white check marks. "Yeah, that's really neat," said Rivers. "I don't know who puts them there, but it's not me. There's one, 'Bench,' I love that sign. That one word says it all. I don't know who it is, but I love it." . . . Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, a cancer survivor who recently threw a no-hitter, was recognized by the Celtics at halftime as a "Hero Among Us." He was joined at the game by Sox owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner and teammates Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Curt Schilling, who sat near the Lakers bench and brandished his World Series ring when he was shown on the video screen above the court. Ex-Red Sox Kevin Millar and former Celtic Antoine Walker also drew loud ovations when they were shown on the screen, as were Patriots Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.