By Dylan Barmmer
The Eastern Conference Finals are upon us again.
This time around, that means a HEAT-Boston Celtics matchup.
And when it comes to the Celtics, the name that seems to come up most these days is Rajon Rondo.
Even a casual look at the 2012 NBA Playoffs makes it quite difficult to ignore the impact of Boston's 6-foot-1, 186-pound point guard. A closer look makes it hard not to say something like "wow".
Rondo has averaged 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and an eye-popping 12.3 assists in 12 playoff games so far. He's recorded a points-assists double-double in all but two of those games, and notched 3 triple-doubles, including an 18-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist effort in the Celtics' 85-75 closeout win in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Philadelphia. Rondo also registered a triple-double in the first game of that series, scoring 13 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and handing out 17 assists.
Amazing numbers from a dynamic player, to be sure.
But as HEAT fans can quickly attest to, his opponent at the point guard position is also in the midst of his own strong playoff run.
And Mario Chalmers seems to be playing at a higher and higher level as the postseason moves on.
In 11 playoff games, the HEAT's fourth-year point guard is averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals. He's shooting 43.3 percent from the field, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range, and 77.4 percent from the free-throw line.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers' scoring average is fourth-best on the HEAT during the playoffs, his rebounding average is tied with Dwyane Wade for fourth-best, his assist average is third-best (just behind Wade's 3.6 average), his steals average is tied with Shane Battier for third-best and his 3-point percentage is third-best, just behind Mike Miller's 40.5%.
Chalmers' playoff scoring, assist, rebounding and 3-point shooting numbers are all equal to or better than his regular-season statistics, and he's had a couple huge individual performances of his own this postseason.
Chalmers scored 19 points and grabbed 7 rebounds and 3 steals in an 87-70 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 3 of the opening-round series against the Knicks. He netted a game-high 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and handed out 5 assists in a 94-75 loss in Indianapolis in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers. Two games later, he scored 8 points, handed out 3 assists and grabbed a HEAT- and career-high 11 rebounds in a 115-83 Game 5 win. And in the closeout Game 6, Chalmers scored 15 points as the HEAT rolled to a 105-93 victory and advanced to meet the Celtics.
Over the last four games, Chalmers has averaged 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He's also hit 20 of 37 shots from the field, including 6 of 11 from behind the 3-point arc. The HEAT have won three of those four games, and in the one defeat, Chalmers scored a playoff career-high 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting.
For the HEAT to continue to advance and reach their second consecutive NBA Finals, Chalmers will need to continue to play and score at a high level. He'll also be asked to step up his defense against the cat-quick, multi-dimensional, frequently-brilliant Rondo, who averaged 18.6 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds in three regular-season games against the HEAT.
The Celtics won two of those three games, but Chalmers did account for six steals, including a season-high five in the HEAT's 115-107 win in Miami on Dec. 27. In order for the HEAT to knock off the seasoned and savvy Celtics, the HEAT will need that kind of disruptive defensive effort from Chalmers throughout, although Dwyane Wade and NBA MVP LeBron James will possibly also be handed some sort of defensive assignment against the wiry and fiery Rondo.
Chalmers is not the prototypical point guard, nor a prolific assist machine in the mold of Rondo, but he does have impressive skills as a facilitator in his own right, and his versatility, confidence and shot-making ability are assets that continue to make him a highly valuable cog in the HEAT machine.
As these two Eastern Conference powers prepare for an intense showdown with a ticket to the NBA Finals on the line, the HEAT's point guard appears ready to rumble with Rondo.
It should be a very good show, indeed.