Rondo gained foothold

His feats of strength helped fuel the attack

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Celtics are gaining traction. But they might have slipped up had Rajon Rondo not brought three pairs of shoes to the Amway Arena for Boston’s 95-92 win over the Magic last night.

Rondo started the game in whites, but after going down on a drive late in the opening half, he took a pit stop, team travel and equipment manager John Connor sprinting to the locker room for a pair of greens to get Rondo to halftime. Then, while the Celtics were devising second-half strategy, Rondo switched to another pair of whites, these with the properly sticky soles.

And Rondo dug in, the only Celtic to perform every minute of a second half in which every minute counted.

Rondo totaled 25 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds in a 45 1/2-minute stint. He also outdueled Orlando point guards Jameer Nelson (9 points) and Jason Williams (3 points). Rondo might have seemed to be carrying much of the Celtic load, but he did not consider it to be exceptionally heavy lifting.

“I played 45 minutes but Paul [Pierce] had a lot of isos, he was very efficient,’’ Rondo said. “So, on the offensive end of the floor I wasn’t always making the plays. Kevin [Garnett] made the plays, Ray [Allen] made the plays, as well. I don’t want to take my eye off the defensive end but on the offensive end I didn’t have to do as much as it may seem.’’

The knock on Rondo has been that he can do everything but shoot from the perimeter. But the game-deciding points last night were delivered by a Rondo jumper for a 93-90 lead with 1:33 remaining. This was about as crucial and dramatic a possession as the Celtics have had this season; it covered 47 seconds on the clock, included an ill-advised timeout with :05 on the shot clock, followed by a Garnett rebound of a Pierce miss, climaxed by Rondo’s 17-footer with a second on the shot clock.

Nelson and Rondo then missed shots. And Nelson drove to cut the Magic deficit to a point. Then, two Pierce free throws provided the final margin.

Rondo’s confidence on perimeter is a direct result of extra work.

“I’m continuing to grow,’’ Rondo said. “The Big 3 are a great example, how hard work pays off. Every day after practice I’m getting up extra shots, working with my coaches. So I’m continuing to work hard, every year I mature as a leader, Doc’s been on me hard, he has a lot to do with my development, as well.’’

And it is not a reach to say Rondo’s defensive improvement is a result of a concentrated effort to play straight-up, instead of gambling, against opposing point guards.

“My mind-set was a defensive mind-set,’’ Rondo said. “I gave up 20 points to Jameer, he shot 8 for 18 last game. But I just wanted to make him take every shot, contest his shot. He got a couple decent looks but I think I did a great job on him.

“I know he’s going to come out aggressive for Game 3. But it’s a long series, we’re going to have our ups and downs — him and myself, as well. But, offensively we just tried to be aggressive, in transition. We got some stops early, I was able to attack the rim. Guys made great passes, we were doing a great job of covering up the ball. Things opened up for me, and I didn’t get to the free throw line last game, but I was able to get some calls and so I was able to do a great job on the offensive end.’’

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