Rondo gets aggressive as Celtics take 2-0 lead over Knicks

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - Rajon Rondo is the smallest of the Boston Celtics starting lineup but the guard proved his mettle Tuesday as Boston inched past the New York Knicks.

The fifth-year pro scored 30 points, a career post-season high, in Boston's 96-93 win, and backed it up with four rebounds and seven assists against a Knicks team depleted by injuries.

Boston's win gave them a 2-0 lead in the Eastern conference best of seven series. The action switches to New York's Madison Square Garden Friday.

Rondo, prince of the assist, rarely stars on the Celtics' well-rounded roster, where forwards Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett often steal the scoring show and Ray Allen regularly hits laser-like three-pointers.

"That's a hard job, that point guard job," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers of Rondo. "When they're playing you to drive, they're trying to force you to shoot, and your most effective way is penetration through trees. It's hard."

At age 25, versus an average age of 33 for the rest of Boston's starters Tuesday, Rondo brings fresh legs to the team. Even so, going up against "trees" takes its toll.

"I got tired in the first quarter," said Rondo. "I was trying to push the pace and I got a little winded. After that, my wind was fine."

Fourteen of Rondo's points came in the first period. "I thought Rondo was aggressive," said Boston's Garnett. "He and Paul (Pierce) had it going very early. I thought he got into a nice rhythm."

Rivers said the coaches had talked about Rondo attacking the basket for lay-ups. "It was good to see he can do that, that he's going to do that. That was great."

Still, Boston got a break Tuesday, Rivers said.

"We won the game. That's all we get out of this ... my guys played hard, but I thought they were lucky to win. (New York) had no Stoudemire, no Billups."

Knicks starting guard Chauncey Billups was out with a strained left knee. Amar'e Stoudemire suffered back spasms after a mistimed dunk during warmups. The forward played just 17 minutes for four points.

"I could hardly move," said Stoudemire, still in too much pain to sit during the post-game press conference.

With his teammates down, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, a four-time NBA All Star, stepped up to score a season high 42 points and 17 rebounds.

The Celtics briefly held a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but Anthony reeled Boston in time and again in a game featuring 22 lead changes.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Ian Ransom)