Rondo embarrasses Cavs as Celts square series

Paul Pierce was once again ineffective, Kevin Garnett was mediocre and Ray Allen made few shots.

On any ordinary day, the Boston Celtics would have had no shot at tying the best-of-seven series with Cleveland at two games apiece.

But this was no ordinary day, and no mortal effort from Rajon Rondo.

The kid whose broken jump shot had many (yes, myself included) believing he could not survive, let alone excel in the NBA, put up staggering numbers Sunday afternoon in a 97-87 victory.

The 29 points were impressive. The 13 assists were also eye-popping.

But it was the 18 rebounds - including one more on the offensive end than the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team - that was nothing short of remarkable.

It may not have been in the same stratosphere as Michael Jordan's 63 points in Boston back in the 1986 playoffs - or even John Havlicek's 54 points in the 1973 postseason - but this performance was nearly as dominating in a far different manner.

There have been just two other playoffs performances more impressive statistically in each of the three categories: Oscar Robertson had 32 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists in 1963 and Wilt Chamberlain put up 29 points, 36 boards and 13 assists back in 1967.

"Obviously, what he is doing is absolutely unbelievable," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

"It's embarrassing," Cavs forward Antawn Jamison said.

In fact, Rondo had as many boards as the entire Cleveland frontline of Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Jamison.

Remember, Rondo's a shade over six-feet and weighs a whopping 178 pounds.

"He's unique," James said.

Unique in that he's not a shooter. His perimeter shot has certainly improved, but it remains average at best.

The only other point guard who Boston coach Doc Rivers could say with conviction is able to dominate a game without the ability to shoot the ball is Jason Kidd.

But Kidd looks like a man. He's a big, strong guard.

Rondo looks like a boy.

But he's the one - not Pierce, K.G. or Ray Allen, a trio of potential Hall of Famers - who's given the Celtics a legitimate chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

"It starts with Rondo," James said. "He's the engine that gets them going. He does everything for them. ... He's the difference-maker."

Pierce had only five points with a little more than two minutes left in the game, Allen was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, and Garnett - although finishing with 18 points and six rebounds - still resembles a shell of his former self.

Rondo was the best player on the court - a court that also featured the world's best player in James.

The phrase "gets to the basket at will" is over-used with all the speedy players in the NBA, but it's appropriate with Rondo - especially since nearly every defender backs off him and dares him to take jump shots.

He's a one-man fastbreak - consistently out-running the Big Three. Cleveland's Anthony Parker, who has the unenviable task of trying to remain in front of Rondo, said the only other player who may have similar speed in the league is Derrick Rose.

``It doesn't matter if the guys are running with him," James said.

Now, thanks to Rondo, this has boiled down to a best-of-three series with Cleveland holding the home-court advantage. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Cleveland, and somehow the Cavs will have to contain Rondo.

This didn't look like the same team that pounded Boston into oblivion less than 48 hours prior.

James wasn't nearly as aggressive and finished with just 22 points. O'Neal had perhaps his best game since coming back from injury, with 17 points and five rebounds, but spent all but 49 seconds on the bench in the final quarter with five fouls.

Even the King was befuddled by that.

"I was kind of surprised not to see him back on the floor the whole fourth quarter," James said.

However, I'm not sure even the old Shaq would have been able to stop Rondo from doing what he does: pushing the ball, getting into the lane and creating havoc.

Cleveland was beaten in just about every category - with the most important being in the effort department.

But most of it came down to Rondo.

His was the most important basket of the game - an offensive putback with 1:34 left that gave the Celtics a 92-85 advantage.

He also spearheaded a 10-0 run to open the fourth quarter in which he was on the court with reserves Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace.

It began with a Rondo layup and included a pair of Rondo feeds to Davis for easy baskets.

"He's a good player, so you've got to give credit where credit is due," Cleveland guard Mo Williams said. "But one player can't beat us."

Go check the tape, Mo, because Rondo basically just did.