BOSTON - One of the few spots at which the Hawks seemed to have an edge over the Boston Celtics was point guard, where Atlanta starts Mike Bibby.
After the way Rajon Rondo played in the first playoff game of his career, even that may be in doubt.
The speedy Rondo had 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds in Boston’s 104-81 win Sunday night. Bibby, a 10-year veteran with 51 playoff games before this season, managed just five points, one assist and three rebounds. And he played six more minutes than Rondo.
Before the series, Boston coach Doc Rivers delivered a message to all his players: “Be a star in your role. That’s the way you can help us,” he recalled Monday.
That’s what Rondo did in the opener of the best-of-seven series that resumes Wednesday in Boston.
The Celtics’ 66-16 record was the best in the NBA. The Hawks won 29 fewer games but improved after they obtained Bibby from Sacramento on Feb. 16. Still, they’re huge underdogs in the series after finishing eight games under .500 at 37-45.
Rondo progressed as a leader who could get the ball to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and has continued that in the playoffs.
“I was pretty comfortable,” he said. “I didn’t really get nervous; I tried to approach it like a regular season (game), but I knew the intensity would be a lot higher and the crowd would be a lot better.”
Rondo was one of the few young players the Celtics kept after they sent four of them to Minnesota in a 7-for-1 trade for Garnett last summer. He’s getting plenty of guidance from the veterans.
Before the series, Garnett, Pierce and Allen gave him some advice, and it certainly didn’t hurt.
“I thought he was very poised,” Garnett said of Sunday’s win. “I think the second half of the season he has been a lot more accepting of his role, a lot more of a general and, in a sense, more of a leader.
“I don’t know what it is that clicked, but he has been playing tremendous. You can see the maturity over the process of the season.”
Rondo came to the Celtics from Kentucky with a reputation as an outstanding ballhandler and defender with a questionable shot. But he went 6-for-9 from the field in the opener.
“My teammates have been telling me all year to shoot the ball,” he said.
Rondo had two steals and no turnovers in the first game, while Bibby had two turnovers and no steals. He also went just 2-of-10 from the field.
“We only had 11 points combined,” Smith said. “We’re not going to win too many games without both of us being able to perform at our highest level.”
The 21st pick of the 2006 draft, Rondo finished fourth on the Celtics with 10.6 points this season after averaging 6.4 in 78 games as a rookie. He started 25 games as a rookie and all 77 in which he played this season.
He did have some postseason experience in college, going to the NCAAs in both his seasons. As a freshman, he scored in double figures in all three tournament games.
Now he’s done that in his only NBA playoff game.
“He just kept it ticking like he had been playing the playoffs many years,” Allen said. “The situation wasn’t too big for him. He came out and he did what he needed to do to direct this team.”
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