INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Unable to corral Rajon Rondo so far in the NBA playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers may resort to Plan LeB.
LeBron James, it's your turn.
With Rondo coming off an historic 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist performance in Game 4, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said Monday he plans to use an assortment of players to try to slow the seemingly unstoppable Celtics point guard and one of them could be James, the league's two-time MVP and a first-team all-defense selection.
"We're going to give 'Bron an opportunity," Brown said.
Rondo's not scared.
"I don't really care who's guarding me," he said.
That's been apparent through the first four games of this ping-ponging series, tied 2-2 going into Tuesday's pivotal Game 5 at Quicken Loans Arena. Rondo, no longer viewed as the fourth Celtic behind Boston's Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, has been destroying the Cavs — particularly Mo Williams and Anthony Parker — with his dribble penetration and playmaking.
Rondo is averaging 21.8 points, 13 assists and 8.3 rebounds, eye-popping, LeBron-like numbers that have forced the Cavs into rethinking, and, perhaps, redesigning their defensive strategy. One obvious option is the switch to James, who has shut down Pierce so far and said Sunday he would be willing to check Rondo.
Brown worries that if James is taken off Pierce, Boston's streaky forward may find his touch after averaging just 11.8 points and shooting only 32 percent through four games.
"You put LeBron on Rondo when he's doing a nice job of making Paul work and you have to put a smaller guy on Paul and we all know what Paul is capable of doing," Brown said. "You do that for long stretches and it can open up a can of worms, and it puts some pressure on LeBron to work defensively throughout the entire game. We'll pick and choose our spots when to put LeBron on him."
If James indeed gets assigned to Rondo, he'll join fellow superstars Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, who both have had to check Boston's tornado-in-tennis shoes guard.
Rondo isn't dreading a one-on-one confrontation with James.
"It's happened before," he said. "LeBron is going to be LeBron. He's a great help defender so he's definitely going to be helping. He's a good defender. They did that a couple of years ago when Kobe was checking me in the finals. So, I'm used to bigger guys guarding me the shot and challenging me late because of their wingspan.
"I really don't care. If he checks me, he checks me. It's not going to change the way we run our offense."
The Cavaliers did little more than some light shooting and conditioning after returning home following their 97-87 loss on Sunday. The primary objective was to break down tape of Game 4, when Rondo joined Oscar Robertson (1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (1967) as the third player in playoff history to have at least 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists.
"We watched, basically, the tape on him," said Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has dropped out of Brown's postseason rotation. "It's hard for one guy to stop him because he is that good. It's going to take all five. We always knew that he was a hell of a player.
"Maybe we were so worried about The Big Three that in some degree we're underestimating him and that was our biggest mistake."
There's still time to correct it, but the danger for the Cavs is that if they focus too much on Rondo, Pierce, Allen or Garnett is capable of having a monster game and sending Boston home with a 3-2 lead.
Pierce hasn't been able to get into a rhythm. Hounded by James, he scored only nine points on Sunday and was in foul trouble.
"I'm digging myself a ditch as far as my fouls but I think they're good fouls I'm getting," he said. "It's nothing I'm really worried about. No matter how I'm doing offensively, as long as we win, that's all that matters to me. There's nothing wrong with me."
Like his point guard, Boston coach Doc Rivers isn't concerned about matchups. The Celtics, possibly overlooked as an underdog, are holding their own with the Cavs.
The LeBron vs. Rondo undercard is a bout they're ready to accept.
"We don't care who guards Rondo," Rivers said. "We're going to still run our stuff. It's not like we're going to stop running our offense. We've anticipated it. I've only talked about it for three games. We know it's going to come at some point in the series and when it does, we have to find a way of using Rondo and making sure he's still the facilitator."
Nothing has been easy for the Cavs. They entered the postseason as one of the favorites and now find themselves in a best-of-three dogfight.
During his post-practice media session, Brown was pressed on a number of issues beyond stopping Rondo.
He was asked about his decision to sit center Shaquille O'Neal for all but the first 49 seconds of the fourth quarter on Sunday. He was challenged about Ilgauskas' lack of playing time, James' seven turnovers in Game 4 and Cleveland's poor bench production.
At least he didn't have to talk about James' famously sprained elbow, which dominated the discussion between Games 2 and 3.
Brown was asked if the Cavs are feeling the pressure.
"In the playoffs everybody wants to win," he said. "You expect to win. If you're up 3-0 you probably feel less pressure than if you're down 1-2. Yeah, I think it's a natural human instinct to feel a little bit of pressure, but it's good pressure and you got to welcome at this point in the season.
"Especially if you expect to be champions."