Kendrick Perkins was traded, and the injured Shaquille O'Neal has remained sidelined in his expensive made-to-order suits, but the story of the Celtics' opening-round rout of the Knicks wasn't the absence of their giants. It was instead the resurgence of 6'1" point guard Rajon Rondo, whom Doc Rivers placed in command of the Boston offense. While trying to integrate center Jermaine O'Neal (who missed 58 regular-season games with knee problems) and a new rotation of bench players, Rivers abridged the Celtics' playbook, telling Rondo to move the ball as he saw fit. Rondo responded by pushing the ball more, or peeling away to dribble into seams from which he could create open shots for his future Hall of Fame teammates. After a pair of too-close wins at home against the shorthanded Knicks, Rondo set up Paul Pierce for 38 points and Ray Allen for 32 in Game 3, and then—not wanting to neglect him—saw to it that Kevin Garnett got his (26 points on 16 shots) in Boston's 101--89 series-clinching win in New York on Sunday. Seemed like old times.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (RONDO)
ON YOUR MARK ... Rondo averaged 12 assists per game and ran roughshod over the hapless Knicks, who haven't won a playoff series since 2000.