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Kevin Garnett goes up and throws down vs. the Brooklyn Nets.BOSTON -- Though Rajon Rondo continued his streak of double-digit assist games, and Brandon Bass suffered an unsightly finger dislocation, and Leandro Barbosa was back to driving to the rim aggressively, the lasting image from the Celtics' 101-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday was Kevin Garnett slamming home a Rondo lob pass just outside of the paint, as part of a designed alley-oop play.
The Rondo-to-Garnett alley-oop came through twice in the final three minutes of Monday's victory, with the second one happening with just over 40 seconds to play and the Celtics leading by two. The surging Bulls were in desperate need of a stop, and it ended up being one of Boston's most basic plays that accelerated their defeat.
The play itself -- similar in result, but different in execution more often than not -- isn't anything new. Garnett's been throwing down Rondo's lob passes since the two first took the floor together in 2007. It was a common sight: Rondo and Garnett would engage in a pick-and-roll situation and as Rondo flanked to one side, he'd calmly loft the ball up, and over would soar Garnett to hammer it through the rim.
The play became so effective that head coach Doc Rivers began employing it in late-game scenarios, whenever the Celtics needed a quick bucket or wanted to take advantage of a 2-for-1 situation. That is, until Garnett injured his right knee against the Utah Jazz in February of 2009. As he slowly recovered from knee surgery over the next few seasons, the alley-oop play was packed away in the attic, taken out very sporadically, and often ending with a Garnett lay-in, as opposed to a ferocious slam.
But Monday's win cemented the fact that the Rondo-to-Garnett alley-oop is very much back, and the Celtics are ready to utilize it once again. Rondo credits Rivers for its revival.
"It's pretty much all Doc's decision," Rondo said. "Doc has great timing when we need to bring that play out and use Kevin with those types of plays, so he's the man behind the [play] as far as the play call and getting Kevin in the right situation to make the plays."
When asked about the play prior to Wednesday's win over the Jazz, Rivers admitted he was hesitant to use the play the last few seasons due to Garnett's health. But with KG back in a good place, physically, Rivers is once again able to diagram the alley-oop on his whiteboard.
As much as the execution of the play depends on the movements of Rondo and Garnett, Rivers was quick to credit the other players on the floor for the sequence's success. Players like Jason Terry and Jeff Green -- guys who help spread the floor -- give Rondo and Garnett the necessary room to work. Couple that with Rondo's improved jump shooting this season, and defenses have a difficult time defending the lob play.
"[Jason Terry], and the way he moves," Rivers said of why the play works. "More [Garnett] being at the 5 to start the year, gives you more time. We can put a lot of shooting on the floor when you throw Jeff Green on the floor with JT and Paul [Pierce]. The biggest part of it to me is that Rondo -- guards are starting to go over [screens] now, because he can shoot the ball. Now that’s happening, the big has to show. If the big’s going to show on Rondo, then we’re getting something for Kevin. We’re rolling Kevin more than popping him, and that’s the same reason. Because Rondo keeps making that shot, and the more he makes his shot, the more things we can run."
Rondo's still the conductor when it comes time for the execution, though. Sometimes he utilizes Garnett's screen and attacks into the paint to create the necessary space, and other times, he'll go the opposite way, moving away from Garnett and drawing both his man and Garnett's man with him, leaving KG wide open in the lane.
"Each play is different," Rondo said. "I try not to pre-determine whatever I'm doing. It's just taking what the defense gives me."
What the defense has been giving him is opportunities, as opposing teams have had difficulty predicting and stopping the alley-oop when the Celtics have been determined to utilize it. And that's just fine by Rivers, who knew it was time to bring the play back.