During the 2008 NBA Finals, Rajon Rondo was a second year point guard truly learning on-the-fly how to manage a trio of superstars while running a championship driven team. Throughout those playoffs and especially in the Finals, Rondo's play emulated that of a human yo-yo. It wasn't until Game 6 where he put his stamp on that series with a clutch performance to close out the Finals.
Rondo came out of the gates early, sneaking up on Pau Gasol for some early game-changing steals that led to quick baskets in transition. In 32 inspring minutes, Rondo tallied the following line: 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 steals and just a single tunrover. It's no coincidence that the Celtics absolutely obliterated the Lakers to officially seal banner 17.
Naturally one of the main focal points for this rematch is just how exactly can the Lakers guard Rondo? Well just in case you haven't been watching the Western Conference Playoffs, they've had some solid practice already. LA has already seen the likes of Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City, Deron Williams of Utah and Steve Nash of Phoenix. Clearly those point guards are all near the top of the NBA's elite.
In the first round, the Lakers had to deal with Westbrook, who is probably the closest in comparison to Rondo (as opposed to Williams and Nash). Westbrook averaged 16 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 1.3 steals and 3.3 turnovers per game in the regular season. Against the Lakers, his averages were: 20.5 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.7 steals and 2.3 turnovers. The Thunder relied heavily on Kevin Durant and Westbrook and came within a failed boxout of Gasol in Game 6, in OKC, of forcing a Game 7 in LA. Westbrook clearly was a problem for the Lakers and that was when he essentially only had one other reliable scoring option in Durant. The Celtics should study some of the film from that series and watch how Westbrook was able to breakdown the Laker defense. With vastly more options than OKC at his disposal, Rondo's importance is even more magnified when you observe that OKC series.
In the second round, the Lakers had to deal with Deron Williams whom many consider the top point guard in the league. Williams is more of a scoring point guard, but even his usual dominating self couldn't muster a single win against LA. In the regular season, Williams averaged 18.7 points, 4 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 1.26 steals and 3.3 turnovers per game. Against LA, his averages were: 24.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 1 steal and 3 turnovers per game. It's clear that Williams forced his scoring more but he almost had to due to the injuries Utah had. Still, there's something to be said for LA being able to sweep a Jazz team led by Deron Williams.
Finally, in the Western Conference Finals the Lakers had to deal with former 2-time MVP Steve Nash. Nash is simply an offensive genius but even he seemed a bit stifled against LA. During the regular season he averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 11 assists, 0.5 steals and 3.6 turnovers per game. Against the Lakers his averages were: 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 10.1 assists, 0.25 steals and 2.58 turnovers per game. While Nash was able to play his game to a point, there is a trend here to what the Laker defense has done against the opposing team's point guards. They're forcing them to become the main scorer.
In each series, Westbrook, Williams and Nash all saw their scoring averages go up and that's not unintentional. The Celtics are a completely different animal however, than all three of the Lakers previous opponents. They play by far and away better defense than all three combined. They have more scoring options for Rondo to distribute to. They have more bigs than any of the other teams to deal with the Lakers big men of Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Finally, their bench is much better than anything the Lakers have had to deal with. And that includes the Suns, who were amazing when they were knocking down threes, but they still didn't play any defense.
Defense, once again is the ultimate deciding factor when comparing the three previous point guard examinations the Lakers have had. Rondo is clearly the best defender at the point guard position. Westbrook certainly has the ability to develop into one with time, but he's not quite at Rondo's level yet. Williams is decent, but because Utah relies on him so much for scoring he can't expend himself too much on the defensive end to sacrifice his offense. Much respect to Steve Nash's all-world offensive skills, but nobody will ever be discussing his name this summer on the beach when debating who are the top defensive point guards (what, am I the only one that does that?).
Everyone is focused on who will stop Rondo as they should be. To me, the biggest factor will be how effective Rondo will be at pressuring the ball, fighting through those staggered picks that killed him against Orlando (don't think Phil Jackson didn't notice this), dropping down to help at the right time, picking his spots when to help crash the defensive boards (to start the fast break himself) and of course, when to gamble.
Whether it's Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher or Jack Nicholson attempting to lock up Rondo, his offensive game will be fine for the most part. However, when his defense has been hampered by nagging injuries, multiple screens by big men or bad gambles, it's killed the Celtics. You know what they say, "defense is the backbone," well Rondo's needs to be made out of titanium alloy in this series.