CLEVELAND — Rajon Rondo disappeared during the third quarter of a Game 1 loss to Cleve-land, allowing his point guard counterpart Mo Williams to single-handedly spark a Cavaliers rally.
The Celtics star wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.
Rondo dished out a franchise-playoff-record 19 assists —including seven in the pivotal third quarter — to help Boston cruise to a 104-86 victory Monday night and tie the Eastern Conference semifinal series at one game apiece. The Cavs finished with 17 assists as a team.
It wasn’t as if the Cavs were unaware that Rondo was fast and could deliver deadly accurate passes, as the 6-foot-1 speedster dished out 12 assists in Game 1. He might have matched his Game 2 total had it not been for the many, many misses by his fellow Celtics stars.
But those veteran players found a way to improve —if only slightly for some —the lethargic shooting performances they turned in during the opening loss.
Forward Paul Pierce, who was 5-of-17 in Game 1, made four of his 10 shots for 14 points in Game 2. Power forward Kevin Garnett went 8-for-21 for 18 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, and Ray Allen led the team with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting Monday.
Things were so bad for the Cavs that even Rasheed Wallace, who has been in a funk all postsea-son, broke out for 17 points with a 7-of-8 night — including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
But it was Rondo — just as in Game 1 — who seemed to light the spark for Boston.
After 12 assists and leading the Celtics to a 52-48 lead at the half, Rondo really began slicing the Cavs defense apart. He found Garnett under the basket for an easy layup, then swung it to Pierce on the perimeter for a 25-foot three.
Allen was the next recipient — also from 25 feet — and the great passes just kept coming. Rondo passed it low, kicked it out and always found the wide-open man for the easy shot.
When the dust settled and the buzzer signaled the end of the third quarter, the Celtics had blown out to an 83-60 lead — the biggest deficit Cleveland had faced all season. Boston outscored Cleveland 31-12 in the quarter, and Rondo spent all but 32 seconds on the floor through the first three periods.
Rondo may have a favorite target for his passes, but you couldn’t tell from Monday night’s game. Rondo’s list of assists in Game 2: Allen 5, Garnett 4, Wallace and Pierce 3 and Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis 2.
Rondo has played all four years of his NBA career with the Celtics, and has already crept onto the team’s all-time assist list. After his Game 2 performance, he sits at No. 9 with 391 — just five back from K.C. Jones. His 813 assists this season are the most ever by a Celtic, besting Bob Cousy’s 715 in the 1959-60 season.
While moving Anthony Parker onto Rondo during the second half of Game 1 seemed to slow the guard, no defensive move worked in Game 2.
Williams again showed his defensive deficiency as he spent the most time on Rondo, who used quick cuts and plenty of fakes and dekes to gain separation from his defender. Once that happened, a Cavalier was forced to pull away from his assignment to try to cut Rondo off, and the guard made the Cavs pay time and again.
Parker and Delonte West also tried to corral Rondo, but they were also left in his dust.
Rondo finished with 13 points — on 5-of-10 shooting — four rebounds and a pair of steals to go with his assist total, but that shouldn’t be the biggest concern to the Cavs.
Cleveland has to worry about what Rondo might do on his home court in Game 3 Friday night … in a tied series … knowing he’s had his way with the Cavs nearly every minute he’s been on the floor.
Contact Shaun Bennett at (440) 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.