The last time superstar point guards Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams converged on the same floor, the fireworks went off. D-Will took over the game down the stretch, making all 11 of his free-throw attempts and helping the Utah Jazz to bury the Celtics, 110-97, in Salt Lake City.
That was on March 22, 2010. If you spent 10 months waiting with bated breath to see if Williams could do it again, you probably walked away quite disappointed on Friday night. The Celtics manhandled Williams all night at the TD Garden, taking him out of the game early and waltzing to a 110-86 win.
As is always the case when Rondo clashes with one of the game's other elite young point guards — Williams, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and the like — the hype machine was going off pregame. The Garden was abuzz about Rondo and D-Will.
Then the game started, and the marquee matchup was a flop. Rondo came on strong from the opening tip, blazing his way to double-digit assists by halftime; Williams spent most of the night watching from the bench, in foul trouble. He didn't score his first point until midway through the third quarter. He played only 23 minutes on the night, finishing with five points on 1-of-4 shooting, six assists and five turnovers. Statistically, it was his worst game of the season, and it was because the Celtics took him down a notch early.
"I don't think we were trying to do that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the Jazz's early foul trouble. "But the first play of the game, we got a foul on Al Jefferson. Then Deron got one. So as a team, our team is smart enough to know that we're trying to get a foul on either guy. Whoever could get one first, that meant we'd have one of those two guys off the floor, and that hurts their offense. When Deron went out of the game, their offense obviously suffered."
Rondo drew Williams' first foul on the Celtics' third possession of the ballgame, at the 10:14 mark of the first quarter. At the 8:18 mark, Williams reached in on Rondo and was quickly whistled for another. Visibly upset about the call, Williams retreated to the bench slowly, jawing at the officials the entire time. Not even four minutes into the game, Rondo had gotten into his head.
Whether Rivers admits it or not, that was part of the game plan all along. Take Williams out of the game, and the rest of the dominoes will fall.
"That was big, because we attacked," Ray Allen said. "We didn't sit back and watch and wait to see what he was doing. We were able to control the game early."
The Celtics had a decent early lead, 9-4, when Williams exited. With the star point guard off the floor for the rest of the first quarter, the margin ballooned. The C's led 30-19 at the end of the first, and their lead began flirting with 20 for much of the second quarter.
It wasn't dumb luck that the Celtics got two quick whistles on Williams. It was by design — it was because Rondo, who relishes these matchups with opposing star point guards, is as prepared as they come. He studied Williams' tendencies for days prior to Friday night, getting himself mentally ready to outfox the Jazz's All-Star guard. When the time came, he was ready to manhandle Williams.
"That's typical Rondo, man," Kevin Garnett said. "Rondo's one of the better students of the game of anyone on our team. I always catch him watching film. You have to do that — you have to understand that when you play against players that can take games over, leaders of other teams, you tend to know where the guy is going to be. Especially Rondo.
"We have a lot of guys that are prideful around here. When we play 'that player' — whoever it is, because we all have them — you're going to be a little focused in. That's typical 'Do, though. He's going to watch film, he's going to know their sets, he's going to know their calls. He was more than ready tonight."