Rajon Rondo should be relieved. After facing a few games’ worth of staggered screens set by Orlando’s bigs, L.A. will assuredly not be employing a similar strategy to wear down Rondo in the finals; running an offense centered around Derek Fisher’s dribble penetration would be both baffling and hilarious, akin to ignoring the finer works of Dennis Hopper’s oeuvre when making a tribute compilation in favor of extended, unaltered scenes from Meet the Deedles.
Instead, Rondo’s defensive role in the series will be a bit more complex than merely shutting down his positional opposite. Limiting Jameer Nelson’s influence as much as possible was an important component of the Celtics’ game plan in the conference finals, but Rondo’s defensive strengths will be a bit more difficult to deploy against the triangle offense.
On the one hand, having a less demanding defensive assignment would theoretically open up Rondo to roam defensively. He could use his length, quickness, and defensive instincts to jump passing lanes and force turnovers with double teams. However, Fish has proven throughout this playoff run that he can still command attention at this stage in his career. He’s not a threat to get to the rim, but if Rondo strays too far from Fisher, Derek could easily nail corner three after corner three.
That’s why a guy like Fisher can still be of use, even at his advanced age. Even if he lacks the quickness he once had, his ability to knock down shots demands that defenses account for him. That one singular skill will prevent Rondo from fully utilizing his defensive abilities in the finals, as one of the better point guard defenders in the game will be left shadowing a spot-up shooter.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just as we’ve seen the Lakers use Ron Artest as a primary perimeter defender in order to conserve Kobe Bryant’s energy for late-game offense, Rondo’s low-pressure defensive assignment should free him up to attack the Lakers on the other end.
The threat of Fisher’s offense may be a slight inconvenience for Rondo, but the threat of Rondo’s offense is a nightmare for Fisher. Even if Boston can’t make the most of Rajon’s defensive abilities in this match-up, he’s still likely to be the most important Celtic on the floor due to his ability to attack Fish a la Russell Westbrook.
Still, what Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau elect to do with Rondo on the defensive end is something to watch. Finding the balance between Rajon making a big defensive impact while not wearing him out or giving Fisher too many looks is tricky, but Thibs is one of the best in the biz at knowing just when and where to apply defensive pressure.