LOS ANGELES - He started the game with a missed shot, then a turnover. He finished it on the bench.
Rajon Rondo struggled to run the Celtics' offense in Game 5 last night at Staples Center, giving way to two equally ineffective backup point guards in Boston's 103-98 loss to the Lakers.
Rondo played just 14 minutes, going 1 for 7 from the field and finishing with 3 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds.
"He's just not playing well right now," said coach Doc Rivers. "[The Lakers] are doing a nice job to start games with Kobe [Bryant] guarding him and roaming, and the ball is ending up in his hands. And what we're trying to get him to do is just be aggressive to the basket."
Or to make a sound play once he gets there.
At one point in the first half, Rondo beat the entire Laker defense to the basket but passed up a wide-open layup in favor of giving Paul Pierce a look at a three. Pierce missed, and the Celtics missed a golden opportunity.
"[That's a shot] that he could have taken, and he's looking to be a passer," said Rivers. "He's got to look to make more plays."
Rondo sat all but two minutes of the second quarter, giving way to little-used Tony Allen. Allen was averaging just 3.7 minutes per game in the playoffs before last night (11 minutes), but the shooting guard forced into the point guard role actually ran the offense better than Rondo in the second quarter.
With the Celtics down 13, Allen stole the inbounds pass from Chris Mihm. On Boston's ensuing possession, Allen used his speed to free himself for a backdoor layup. On the next possession, Allen swished to cut the lead to single digits.
But Allen (one assist) is not a distributor, and the Celtics missed Rondo's potential to make big plays. Rondo's other replacement, Eddie House, had 6 points in 13 minutes, but House's assist total equaled his turnover output of two.
Rondo was matter-of-fact about his performance.
"I was very disappointed, but we've got to move on," the second-year guard said. "We've got to play another game in Boston . . . we'll be glad to get home."
Rondo sprained his ankle in the third quarter of Game 3. He returned to that game and started Game 4, finishing with 8 points and four assists. He refused to blame the ankle for his performance last night.
"No, it's not bothering me at all," he said.
Rondo played just 11 seconds in the fourth quarter last night, but both he and Rivers denied the playing time had anything to do with Rondo's health.
"It's not a matter of fatigue because it's the Finals," said Rondo.
In a disturbing trend, Rondo's numbers have gone down in each round of the playoffs. After averaging 11.6 points and 7.3 assists in the first round against the Hawks, Rondo's numbers dipped to 10.6 points and 6.0 assists in the conference semifinals, and fell to 9.2 points and 6.5 assists in the conference final. They have fallen even further (8.0 points, 7.3 assists) during the Finals.
Despite the drop-off, Rivers said he hasn't lost confidence in his point guard. He simply needs him to play better.
"We still believe in him," said Rivers.