At a certain point in Friday night's Game 3 at the TD Garden, it clicked. Rajon Rondo realized that if he wanted to beat the Cavaliers that night, he would have to do it himself.
Paul Pierce was slumping. Kendrick Perkins and even Ray Allen were no-shows. The bench was giving him nothing. Rondo had to take over, and if he couldn't, the Celtics had no chance against the well-oiled Cavs machine.
It didn't work. Rondo got off a team-high 17 shots and finished with 18 points, but the C's ended up on the wrong side of a good old-fashioned blowout.
"I told Rondo, you can't get caught," coach Doc Rivers said after practice on Saturday afternoon. "He does it at times — he becomes a scorer instead of a playmaker. You know, you want him to be both all the time. But playmaking is key. I thought early on, he really went at [Anthony] Parker. And he got everything he wanted, he got to the basket. But no one else was involved. So you've got to careful. That's a fine line for a point guard."
Between Games 2 and 3, it was night and day. In Game 2, he was generating tons of open looks for everyone from Allen, to Kevin Garnett, to Rasheed Wallace. Rondo finished with 19 assists, a Celtics postseason record.
The following game, he finished with just eight, matching his playoff low from Game 3 against Miami.
"Rondo made the same passes he made in Game 2," Kendrick Perkins said. "Guys just didn't make their shots. If guys had made shots last night, he probably would have had another 19-assist game. But guys just didn't make shots on the offensive end."
The Cavaliers have made adjustments in this series to make Rondo less of a factor. In the first two games of this series, the speedy young point guard absolutely killed the Cavs, and coach Mike Brown desperately needed to mix things up.
More and more now, he's been relying upon Parker, a bigger and more physical guard, to bring tough defense against Rondo. It's working, and it's forcing Rondo to adjust back.
"Rondo, I think he did a great job of attacking early," Allen said. "He had a matchup where he was attacking. But that's the thing — we've got to make sure that we keep moving the ball around. We can't allow them to lull us into the idea that we have a great matchup. Because you know, Kevin [Garnett] had a great matchup, I had a great matchup, Paul had a great matchup, but we've got to move it around. We find the matchups that we like, the ball moves around and then we become unpredictable. That's when we get easy looks."