Foul play suspected
Early troubles forced Rondo to the bench
MIAMI — Rajon Rondo watched Game 1 of Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat unravel and there wasn’t much he could do about it. Because he was on the Celtics’ bench.
Three fouls in the first 13 minutes yesterday landed Rondo a spot a few seats down from Doc Rivers. The Celtics were chipping at a 20-16 deficit when Rondo drew his third foul, 43 seconds into the second quarter. The view from the sideline was unobstructed as Rondo watched the last 11:17 of the half.
Rondo saw Heat forward James Jones convert four 3-pointers. The deficit ballooned to 15 points by intermission (51-36). And the offensive rhythm the Celtics hoped to find early was delayed, and Boston eventually lost, 99-90.
“I thought [Rondo’s three fouls] was huge,’’ Rivers said. “The only thing I told Rondo, I thought him and [Kevin Garnett] played the game in thought instead of instinctively. They were thinking about what they should do instead of playing. Those two guys probably have the best instincts on our team. They both played with the right spirit, it just didn’t go well.’’
Rondo stared at the stat sheet after the game and saw many reasons for the loss. His own line was anything but Rondo-like. He had 8 points (3 of 10 from the field) with 7 assists, 4 fouls, and 5 turnovers. Three of those turnovers came in the final 3:13 as the Celtics were trying to erase a 12-point deficit.
The miscues were typical of Boston’s day. In a game of emotions, the Celtics needed a calming presence on the floor. Five minutes into the game, Rondo was slapped with two fouls. He picked up his second trying to stop LeBron James on a breakaway. Rivers elected to keep Rondo in the game despite the fouls, among Boston’s 24, which contributed to the Heat going to the line 32 times — and converting 26.
“It was frustrating, especially when you think you can help the team,’’ Rondo said. “They did a great job. We made a run at it again in the second quarter but then again they made that run as well. It was frustrating to get three fouls in the first half. I don’t think that has happened this entire year — to be in the playoff game and Game 1 was frustrating.’’
And what doesn’t go well for Rondo affects the rest of the team. The Celtics’ offense sputtered to 42.7 percent shooting (35.9 in the first half). Delonte West attempted to organize the offense but only Ray Allen (25 points) managed to get the shots he needed.
If anything, the second half proved just how much the Celtics rely on Rondo. Shortly after he returned, the Celtics had a 12-0 run that cut Miami’s advantage to 55-48, but then the game slowly slipped out of reach.
“He’s our motor,’’ Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal said. “He gets guys in correct places. Him getting three fouls really hurt us. I don’t think it allowed him to get into a rhythm because he had to sit for so long. But then we have to have other guys step up. I don’t think we as a team played very well. Guys are looking forward to getting to the practice court [today] and responding. And that’s what it’s about. We have to try to win Game 2.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.