Sixers-Celtics Game 7: Rajon Rondo when you need him

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There is an argument to be made that Rajon Rondo is the single most compelling player in the NBA, at least the one still playing in these now Conference Finals after the Celtics’ 85-75 win in Game 7 over the Sixers to advance to face Miami. And if anything, Game 7 reinforced that idea as he was cementing the Celtics’ place in the penultimate seven-game series of these playoffs. Rondo was 3-9 for 7 points through the first three quarters. He was sloppy. He was disinterested. He was all the things you worry about with Rajon Rondo.

And then, when Paul Pierce got his sixth foul late in the fourth, Rondo took over. Pierce picked up his sixth at the 4:16 mark. From then on, Rondo went 3-3 from the field, 4-4 from the stripe, scoring 11 points (of Boston’s final 14) and grabbing three rebounds on his way to being the only Celtic besides Larry Bird to snag a triple-double in a Game 7. Rondo can’t shoot, play off him. That’s the book. That’s the story. That’s the scheme.

And he just knocked them down.

There will be talk of the Celtics’ defense, which was its typical self against another terrible effort from the Sixers. There will be talk of KG’s intensity and Ray Allen coming alive. But the story, the obvious story that will be talked about because it is the story, is Rajon Rondo, and how when it looked like the Celtics might have another late collapse, he found the weakness in his game and turned it into a strength. But in reality, Rondo’s long two to really put the Sixers away is in the range he’s hit 4/7 in these playoffs, and shot 43 percent in the regular season. It was not a fluke. He can hit it. He did. He knocked down free throws, which is actually a bigger concern. And the Celtics are moving on.

Coming out of the first-round series with the Hawks, when Chris Bosh went down, it appeared like things were lining up for the Celtics to make a run to the Finals. Everything appeared set. An easy run against the Sixers, face a reeling Miami team or an out-classed Pacers team, get to the Finals and see what happens. The possibility is still there but the confidence is shaken. Ray Allen hit two big 3’s late. But he was 2-7 from three for the night, 3-11 from the field, and struggled to make cuts the night through. Paul Pierce has lost a step. Avery Bradley is out for the season. There are question marks about Greg Stiemsma and Keyon Dooling off the bench. There are reasons to doubt.

Which is why Game 7 encapsulates the Celtics and where they stand. The Big 3 will do some things, especially Kevin Garnett. They’ll provide some support. But against the Heat, as it was in Game 7, it will be on Rondo to make the plays, to make the decisions, to be greater. Last year he was taken out by a dislocated elbow when Wade pulled him down. This year, barring horrible luck, he’ll play. And he’ll have to be the difference for the Celtics if they want to get past the team that ushered them loose in five games last year.

But for now, it’s a win for the Celtics, another trip to the ECF, their third in five years of the Big 3 era, and a feeling that no matter how badly they play, they’ll find a way.

No matter how dark it gets, Rajon Rondo will find the light.

Celtics-Heat begins Monday.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.