It turned out Thursday's Boston-San Antonio game was VERY relevant as a potential indicator for the playoffs. All of San Antonio's big three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) were on the floor, as was key contributor Antonio McDyess (until he stepped on Ginobili's foot and didn't return). For Boston, Jermaine O'Neal made his first appearance in eons. Both teams were taking this one seriously. The most important development? The re-appearance of the dynamic Rajon Rondo...finding the form that was so important in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year.
Rondo Thursday vs. San Antonio:
22 points (on 11 of 20 shooting)
+10 in plus/minus
Rondo's Season Averages:
10.4 points (on 4.4 of 9.0 shooting)
If you watched Boston's 107-97 victory, you know Rondo was the difference maker. He was flying all over the court. He was attacking the basket. He was making jumpers instead of passing them up. When the Spurs sunk in, he dished to teammates for open jumpers (and Boston is great at making open jumpers!). For the night, Boston was 44 of 73 on two-point shots, a sterling 60%.
Or, in other words, he was the Rondo we saw last year when Boston was beating Miami and Cleveland in the playoffs (though not so much Orlando).
Last 3 Games of Miami series:
17 points on 16 shots, 8 assists, 5 rebounds
23 points on 17 shots, 9 assists, 4 rebounds
16 points on 16 shots, 12 asists, 8 rebounds
All 6 Games of Cleveland series:
27 points on 10 shots, 12 assists, 6 rebounds
13 points on 10 shots, 19 (!) assists, 4 rebounds
18 points on 17 shots, 8 assists, 5 rebounds
29 points on 21 shots, 13 assists, 18 (!) rebounds
16 points on 12 shots, 7 assists, 2 rebounds
21 points on 15 shots, 12 assists, 3 rebounds
How do you score 27 points on 10 shots? Rondo was 12 of 14 from the free throw line.
Rondo looks like he ran out of gas after Game Two of the subsequent Orlando series. I'll do an abbreviated version here with the sum of points, assists and rebounds because you can see the drop off easier that way. The sequence for the nine games leading into Orlando with that sum was: 30-36-36-45-36-31-60-25-36 (median of 36, and only one game below 30)
Points+Assists+Rebounds in 6 Games vs. Orlando:
20 in Game 1
38 in Game 2
26 in Game 3
20 in Game 4
28 in Game 5
23 in Game 6
Cleveland played very physical defense last year, as did Orlando. It took its toll on a point guard playing his heart out. He would only reach 30 one time in the Orlando series after doing that in eight of his prior nine outings. The midpoints vs. Orlando were 23-26...well off the 36 median vs. Cleveland.
Points+Assists+Rebounds in 7 Games vs. LA Lakers:
27 in Game 1
41 in Game 2
22 in Game 3
18 in Game 4
31 in Game 5
21 in Game 6
32 in Game 7
One huge game vs. the Lakers, but a median of 27.
I know this is an extremely simplified way of looking at Rondo's production. There are a lot of complex stats out there. This paints the picture fairly accurately I think in terms of his energy, his passion, and...ultimately, his inability to be Superman the whole way through.
Thursday's sum vs. San Antonio: 41
Tonight we saw the Rondo from the Cleveland series...just in time to remind everyone that the Celtics aren't planning on making their Spring tee times any time soon. They've slumped during a very heavy schedule stretch. This was the first time they had two days off before a game since March 6th. Jermaine O'Neal now has a chance to contribute off the bench. Shaquille O'Neal is itching to return. As you heard the TNT announcers say multiple times...health is more important than seeding. Health and the whirling dervish version of Rondo just might vault Boston back into the favorite's role in the East regardless of how the seeds end up.
Boston 52-22 (2 games back)
Miami 52-23 (2.5 games back)
Orlando 47-28 (fourth seed virtually certain)
Atlanta 43-32 (fifth seed virtually certain)
New York 37-38 (2 games behind Philly for #6)
Indiana 34-42 (1 game clear of Charlotte for #8)
Seven of those eight teams are in action Friday night:
Chicago visits Detroit
Boston vists Atlanta on ESPN
Miami visits Minnesota
Orlando hosts Charlotte
Philadelphia hosts New Jersey
Indiana hosts Milwaukee
*San Antonio can't be pleased with tonight's result. It's true that the team may be a bit rusty given the recent absences of key players. But, they were outplayed up and down the floor by an opponent that's been dealing with issues of their own. And, the Spurs will probably be chasing some quick little scorers in the Western brackets. What Rondo did tonight was reminiscent of (but not as good as) what Derrick Rose did to the Spurs the night before the All-Star Break a few weeks ago.
San Antonio carries a 5-game losing streak into a Friday night meeting at Houston.
*Can update the New York pace factors now. After a six game stretch that registered at 92-92-92-89-92-93 in possessions per game, they've now played to 96-104-99 in the last three. That 104 was in overtime, meaning it was probably about 94 in regulation (subtracting 10 as a reasonable estimate is so much easier than actually counting them up!)
Cosmetically, that should at least help with complaints from fans that the Knicks were playing without energy. Fast paced Cleveland and Toronto are up next Sunday and Tuesday (New York is the only Eastern playoff team not in action Friday night).
*Miami's defense has completely disappeared in recent games. You get the sense they're saving peak intensity for the playoffs. As we've documented, and others have too, Miami has a tendency to get slow on rotations when they're not breathing fire. This leads to a lot of open jumpers. Opponents have been hitting those shots lately, leading to horrendous efficiency numbers. Here's the data from the five games since the Heat's brutal gauntlet ended...
Miami's Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions):
116.3 at Washington
113.3 at Cleveland
117.8 vs. Houston
102.1 vs. Philadelphia (not a bad game)
110.6 at Detroit
For the year, Miami is at 100.4, which ranks 5th in the NBA. The NBA average is 104.3. The Heat just allowed an average of about 115 to the horrible offenses of Washington and Cleveland!
Miami had just played six games under 104.5 in wrapping up their gauntlet. so, this is a noticeable change in defensive intensity. Looks like a conscious choice to back off for awhile.
*Might as well throw in an NIT note...Alabama was 2 of 14 on three-pointers Thursday in their championship game loss to Wichita State...continuing the college trend we've seen recently for victory to go to whoever avoids a trey debacle. The pomp and pageantry of touranment basketball helps hide this from non-statheads. Once you start looking for it, you're not as pomped up about the spectacle.
*Dallas/LA Lakers will finish late. Back Friday before midnight to run through stats and notes from the busy NBA slate. See you then...