Rajon Rondo

Defending Rajon Rondo

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Rajon Rondo’s outlandish point guard-ery this season is even more remarkable considering his obvious offensive flaw; Rondo is five years into his NBA career and yet his jump shot is still weaning. There are other wildly successful NBA players with holes in their games, but in some cases, there are institutional limits to prevent teams from fully exploiting those flaws. Dwight Howard, for example, can only be sent to the free throw line so many times before fouling him intentionally stops making sense. Rondo has no such protection from the rulebook, and he’s left on an island each and every time he rises up for a jumper.

Yet Rondo averages 15.1 assists per game and attempts five field goal attempts at the rim per night, even without the threat of scoring from any kind of distance. His noticeably incomplete game hasn’t stopped him from being one of the league’s most dynamic forces, and oddly enough, one of the Celtics’ most potentially explosive scorers. Rondo showed in last year’s playoffs that he’s capable of detonating on a whim, and if teams give him access to the paint or the baseline, he’s as capable of putting up huge point totals as he is of reaching his typically excellent assist marks.

However, the very presence of those weaknesses makes Rondo a very different cover than other point guards. Opposing defenses may respect the jumpers of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Rondo’s other elite PG contemporaries, but the defensive options open up when Rondo’s shaky jumper becomes a prominent part of the opponent’s game plan.

The Dallas Mavericks bested the Boston Celtics 89-87 last week, and as Sebastian Pruiti pointed out at NBA Playbook, the Mavs were quite successful in defending Rondo. He finished with 15 assists in that particular game, but Rondo also shot just 3-of-11 from 10 feet out and committed four turnovers. Dallas focused on keeping Rondo out of the lane first and foremost, and in exchange, gave up a number of long two-point jumpers to the likes of Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis. That’s not an ideal concession, but statistically speaking, it’s the right play. Rondo can do so much for the Celtic offense when he’s given freedom of movement, and by going under some screens and switching on others, the Mavs were able to significantly limit Rondo’s dribble penetration.

That doesn’t completely shut down the Celtics’ offense, but it did make everything a bit more difficult against Dallas. Paul Pierce had to create more in isolation. Kevin Garnett had to work in the post more often against a pretty tough defender in Tyson Chandler. Ray Allen was forced to create off the dribble, when he’s far more comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations. The Celtics are far too good of a team to have their offense “solved,” in any way, but the Mavs did a great job of limiting Rondo’s impact, even if he still ended up with an assist total that would make a career night for many of the league’s point guards.

Pruiti wisely notes that having a big point guard (and thus one that can easily switch on the Celtics’ 1-3 screens without being exploited by Paul Pierce) is quite valuable in implementing the Mavs’ approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more teams try to replicate elements of Dallas’ overall game plan regardless of their PG’s build. Obviously not all of the facets of this defensive strategy will fall in line with other teams’ philosophies, but picking and choosing specific parts of this approach could definitely reap benefits for teams around the league.

Take notes, everyone. No one is stopping Rajon Rondo, but making his life difficult — even if he still ends up with 11 and 15 — can be a relatively straightforward endeavor for those willing to focus on Rondo and live with mid-range jumpers from the Celtics’ bigs.

Paul shakes off awful start, leads Clippers past Heat 100-93

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) and forward Amare Stoudemire, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Associated Press
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MIAMI (AP) — Chris Paul had the worst possible start to his shooting day.

His finish, however, was perfect.

Paul’s consecutive 3-pointers in the final minutes were daggers to a Miami comeback, and his game-high 22 points helped the Los Angeles Clippers hang on to beat the Heat 100-93 on Sunday.

“I kept shooting it,” Paul said, “because sooner or later it had to go in.”

J.J. Redick scored 14 points, Wesley Johnson had 10 and DeAndre Jordan and Cole Aldrich grabbed 11 rebounds each for the Clippers, who won despite a 1-for-15 start from the field and swept the two-game season series with Miami.

“That was a team win because nobody really had it going,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But our defense really had it going all game.”

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic all scored 17 points for Miami. Luol Deng added 15 points for the Heat, and Hassan Whiteside finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

“They did to us what we’ve been doing the last few games, just grinding an opponent,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what they did to us, then made the bigger plays down the stretch.”

Paul was 0 for 7 in the opening period, the worst one-quarter shooting performance of his NBA career, and was 0 for 9 before he finally got a shot to fall. But his 3-pointers in the fourth snuffed out a Miami rally, and his lob that set up Jordan for a dunk was the clincher for the Clippers – who, after that horrid start, shot 55 percent the rest of the way.

Redick made a layup on the game’s first possession and the Clippers proceeded to misfire on their next 14 shots, but recovered to win for the 11th time in their last 13 road games, most of that with Blake Griffin sidelined by injuries.

“We’re just trying to hold it down until our big fella comes back,” Paul said.

Miami went to the oft-used strategy of intentionally fouling Jordan in the third quarter to slow the Clippers’ offense. And while it worked to a point – Jordan went 3 for 10 from the free throw line in the quarter – Miami couldn’t score. The Heat were 4 for 20 in the third, got down by as many as 11 and never led again.

“They made big plays down the stretch,” Wade said. “That’s the way we’ve been winning of late, so we can’t be mad at that. We got a little taste of our own medicine.”

TIP-INS

Clippers: G Austin Rivers will miss four to six weeks with a broken left hand. For now, the Clippers aren’t planning on making any roster changes to add depth. “We may have to make a decision but we’re just going to try to ride it out,” Doc Rivers said. … Paul has faced the Heat 19 times, and his teams are 13-6 in those games.

Heat: Whiteside took his first charge of the season. … Wade’s first point of the day gave him outright possession of 41st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He came into the game tied with John Stockton at 19,711 points. … Deng has scored at least 15 points in five of his last six games.

 

SUPER SATELLITE

The Clippers were using a different plane than usual for their postgame flight from Miami to Philadelphia, for Super Bowl 50 reasons. They changed planes in order to have satellite television access so they wouldn’t miss any of the Carolina-Denver game.

“It’s really nice of the NBA to have us play today and then travel during the Super Bowl,” Doc Rivers said. “Just really a great move. But at least we get to watch it.”

 

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.