The Celtics will no doubt owe most of this current playoff success to their All-Star point-guard, Rajon Rondo.
Commonly recognized as the "Big Three" team, Rondo has developed his game in such a way that he can safely establish himself on level par with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Named to his first all-star appearance in Dallas earlier this year, along with an inclusion into the NBA All-Defensive first team for the first time. He has led his team with the experience and savvy equivalent to a thirteen year veteran, leading ESPN's Mark Jackson on numerous occasions to claim "this is the Rajon Rondo show."
Enter: Game 1. NBA finals. Rondo doesn't show.
Rajon Rondo scored just 13 points on 6-14 shooting to go along with six rebounds and eight assists - hardly the superhero-type performance we've come to expect from the four-year pro out of Kentucky. Unable to bring his usually mouth-watering, smooth and efficient game, Rondo appeared to dissapear with each minute gone by at the Staples center.
Often with a Moses-like ability to part the defense wide open and speed into the lane for an easy two, Rondo found himself in the lair of Giants. He had his shot sent back three times, as he was incapable of weaving his way around the long arms of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
He was stiffled by Derek Fisher's pesky and intelligent defense. 99.9% of people (probably except Fisher) saw Rondo having a distinct advantage of the Lakers point-guard.
When the Celtics ran it up court, you wouldn't be mistaken if you thought Rondo was licking his lips at the thought of abusing Fisher through knife-edge penetration. Once he could get past Fisher, he could set up any play he wanted.
Kevin Garnett 17 foot jumpshot? He could see the swish.
Ray Allen coming round the screen to knock down a three? Sounds good. Only, he wasn't met by Fisher. Instead, Bryant was given the job to nullify Rondo and make him ineffective.
It worked a charm. Kobe demonstrated why he's been in 10 NBA All-Defensive teams. He never allowed Rondo to run the Celtics offense. He seldom allowed Rondo a free-way into the lane. In fact, Rondo only shot four free-throws. He made just one. Bryant had executed the plan to perfection.
"It was pretty much what we expected. Just try to keep him out of the lane as much as possible," Kobe said.
Rondo has to find a way to counter that in Game 2 if the Celtics are going to have a chance to win. As Game 1 wore on, the Celtics were fading, and so was Rondo. Five fast-break points isn't going to get it done.
"I don't think we had a lot of fast-break points,'' Rondo deduced. "They did a great job getting back on the fast break. It seemed like every time we took the ball out of the net."
"They did a good job of collapsing when I did get inside,'' Rondo added. "They're very long. Fish is very clever. He took a charge on me one time. They did a great job of mixing it up. I've got to sometimes attack, make the refs make the call and other times get it out to our shooters."
In Game 2, Rondo has to ensure that he attacks with more aggression, but at the same time with more intelligence. The Giants in the Lakers big men will be waiting again for what might appear to be easy prey. Only this time, Rondo will want to daze them with his wizardry, and lead his team to victory, before the next three games are contested in Boston.
One can say, "Oh it's only one game, he just had an off-night". If you want to be recognized as one of the top point-guards in the league, along with the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash, you simply can't have 'off-nights' in the NBA finals. It would be unjust to ask Rondo to pull off 29 point, 18 rebound and 13 assist performances regularly, but he needs to keep the Celtics wagon running, or there won't be an 18th title celebration in Boston this year.