Rondo Out-Duels Parker in San Antonio Battle of Point Guards

Rajon Rondo drives to the basket against the Spurs' Tony Parker #9 during Thursday's game in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo has been in the NBA sine 2006; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker has been in the league since 1999. Rondo was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team; Parker was named to the First Team. Rondo is a two-time All-Star; Parker is a three-time All-Star. Rondo has one NBA Finals ring; Parker has three. Parker may have the stronger NBA pedigree, but for Thursday’s game against the Spurs, Rondo was the better point guard.

Rondo’s 22 points and 14 assists (and zero turnovers) over 41 minutes keyed a Celtics offense that shot 63.4 percent in the second half, beating the Spurs, 107-97. The Celtics went 2-0 against the Western Conference-leading Spurs this season, and have now won the last five games at AT&T Center.

Celtics Close Third Quarter in Style

The Celtics started the second half tied 49-49, then traded buckets for the first six minutes of the third quarter. The Celtics took a 55-54 lead – their first lead since being up 2-1 early in the first – on a Ray Allen (13 points on 3-11 shooting) jump shot after a steal. A quick give-and-go from Rondo to Paul Pierce then back to Rondo for the layup pushed their lead all the way up to 61-56 with 7:35 left in the third.

A 9-0 Spurs run in which reserve power forward Matt Bonner drained two three-pointers and Parker caught the Celtics defense napping and slashed lightning-quick through the lane (a huge problem for the Celtics defense all game) for the and-1 layup gave the Spurs a 65-61 lead. The Celtics responded with a 14-3 run over the final 5:52 of the third quarter that Boston a 77-70 lead going into the fourth.

Rondo scored six points during the run, sandwiching two mid-range jumpers around another layup. A career .487 shooter, he shot 11-20 Thursday night.

When Rondo wasn’t scoring, Jeff Green was. Green kick-started the run by slipping past all Spurs defenders on a fast break, then catching Rondo’s deep pass and laying it in to make it 67-65 Spurs. Fittingly, Green also finished the run by draining two jumpers within 30 seconds. He finished the game with eight points.

No Fourth-Quarter Fade

The Celtics offense found its rhythm during their third-quarter run, and their strong shooting continued in the fourth. Jermanine O’Neal finally returned from injury Thursday night, and Rondo found him under the basket for the layup and a foul, pushing the Celtics lead to 82-72. Rondo himself then knocked down a jumper for the 84-76 lead after Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis interlocked arms at the free-throw line to give him a double-screen.

Though Rondo was the star of the show, Garnett, Davis and Pierce all played strong games behind him. Garnett was lights out, draining 75 percent of his shots. Whenever the Spurs ate a bit more into the Celtics’ fourth-quarter lead, there was Garnett, knocking down another jumper. He scored six points in the last four minutes of the game, and played stout second-half defense, fighting for rebounds. He finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds, playing for 28 minutes despite early foul trouble.

Pierce finished the game with 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for his fifth double-double of the season. Twice – in the first fourth quarters – he grabbed his own offensive rebound after missing a shot and put it back in. In the second quarter he came up with a nice steal, then found Allen, who was fouled while shooting. Allen converted both free-throws (6-6 overall, including four in the final 1:07), tying the game 47-47 with just over two minutes left in the half.

Davis played 32 minutes off the bench, scoring 16 points. Despite often having the unenviable task of having to guard center Tim Duncan (20 points, 13 rebounds), Davis also pulled down eight rebounds. In the first quarter, Davis drained a jumper after Rondo caught a pass at the top of the arch with one hand, then fed it to Davis in the same motion. In the third, Davis gave the Celtics a 57-54 lead by grabbing an offensive rebound, up-faking, then laying it in. He also scored on a reverse layup with 1:29 left in the game to make 103-92 Celtics.

Krstic Hurt in Spurs-Dominated First Half

Nenad Krstic’s right knee appeared to bend awkwardly during a Celtics offensive sequence with just over two minutes left in the half. He left the game and did not return. Doc Rivers would not describe the injury in any detail afterwards, but did say Krstic would undergo an MRI on Saturday. The Celtics can ill-afford the loss of another big man.

Krstic’s injury was the lowlight of a first half that belonged to the Spurs. San Antonio’s offense looked perfectly in rhythm right from tip-off. When Parker (23 points, eight assists) wasn’t cutting through the lanes unguarded, he was kicking it out to the Spurs’ perimeter shooters, who knocked down three treys in the first quarter alone. Though the Spurs never led by more than seven, it always seemed as if they had an answer for every Celtics basket.

The Spurs weren’t afraid to shoot the three-pointer Thursday, but they weren’t accurate, shooting 8-29 from beyond the arc. They were more effective in the paint, where they out-scored the Celtics 50-46 and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.

The Celtics’ interior defense often looked sluggish or completely out of sorts, repeatedly failing to rotate to cover the extra pass. Even in one-on-one coverage they were often beat. In the second quarter, Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (nine points, six assists), in a display of the thespian talents that have garnered him so many called fouls, completely fooled Garnett by faking a pass under Garnett’s outstretched arms. Ginobili laid it in as Garnett turned around to look for the pass’s recipient, putting the Spurs up 42-37.

At first, the Spurs dominated the Celtics in second-chance points, out-scoring them 15-4 in the first half. In the second half, however, the Celtics defense bore down, limiting the Spurs to just five offensive rebounds. Boston’s stronger defense allowed them to finish tied with the Spurs in total rebounds, 43-43.

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