The score was 70-70 and the Cavaliers had clawed back into a game they probably should have been losing -- a game the Cavs were outrebounded in, and one where they were beaten badly in hustle plays. Boston led by nine at halftime, and by 11 with 11:15 to go in the third quarter. By quarter's end, though, Cleveland had the ball with a chance to take the lead.
But James had one of those possessions where he gets into no-man's-land, and he threw an errant pass to the corner that Glen Davis intercepted. Davis immediately flew the ball ahead to Rajon Rondo and he dribbled toward the basket with James in close pursuit. James was chasing him down, lining up the upcoming layup to block it, his personal forte. Rondo leaped, raised the ball as if to lay it in. James leaped, ready to block the shot.
But Rondo suddenly pulled the ball back, then whipped it behind his back as James flew by. The ball went right to Tony Allen, whose dunk gave Boston an 72-70 lead and more energy than 10 Cape Wind projects off Nantucket.
From that point, Rondo was really electric, assisting or scoring on five of the next seven Boston baskets. First Rondo fed Allen for a reverse layup to give Boston a 74-72 lead at quarter's end. When the fourth quarter began, Rondo and Allen changed roles, and Allen fed Rondo for a layup. Rondo then found Davis behind the Cavs with a long pass for a reverse layup. Rondo found Davis on the break for a layup, then made a 16-foot jumpshot and a 70-70 tie had turned into an 86-74 Boston lead.
Cleveland tried to claw back, but the deficit was too large. And by game's end, Rondo had a game that was every bit as good as James had in Game 3 -- with 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. A point guard ... 18 rebounds.
"Absolutely sensational," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
"Unbelievable," James said.
"About time," Rondo said.
Only two players have topped Rondo's numbers during the playoffs. Oscar Robertson had 32, 19 and 13 in 1963, and Wilt Chamberlain had 29, 36 and 13 in 1967. Rondo, then, had the finest overall playoff game in 43 years.
"It's major," Cavs guard Mo Williams said. "You go out and compete against a guy every day, but obviously you've got to be a fan of the game and -- what we call in the urban worlds -- you can't be a hater. When a guy has a game like that, you've gotta tip your hat to him. But at the same time, we'll see him Game 5 in Cleveland."
It's worth asking exactly what the Cavs can do with Rondo in Game 5. He is averaging 21.8 points, 13 assists and 8.3 rebounds. The Cavs played two games with Williams on Rondo, but didn't like the way that was going. In Game 3, they went to Anthony Parker and the Cavs won, but Rondo still had 18 points and eight assists. In Game 4, Rondo outquicked, outfought and outhustled anyone who dared guard him -- including Parker, whose "length" was merely a game-long exercise in futility.
At this point, there's only one option left -- and that is to put James on Rondo.
"That's something that we maybe should explore because Rondo is definitely dominating this series at the point guard position," James said.
He astutely pointed out, though, that if he guards Rondo someone else has to guard Paul Pierce. Through four games, Pierce has been a non-factor, shooting 16-for-50 with James on him. But if James goes to Rondo, in all likelihood it means Parker has to go to Pierce. The Cavs have made that move in the past, but usually only in the fourth quarter -- they don't want the league's MVP spending an entire game chasing the other team's best player, but will rely on him in the final quarter with the game on the line.
"I would take the challenge," James said.
James also made a point about Shaquille O'Neal that could raise eyebrows of those inclined to raise them. O'Neal had 17 points and five rebounds and got to the free throw line 11 times -- but did not see the court the final 11:11 after picking up his fifth foul.
"Shaq played extremely well," James said, "and I was kind of surprised not to see him back on the floor the whole fourth quarter."
James is not the kind to publicly or personally challenge those in charge, so take the words for what they are. He thought O'Neal played well, thought his team played well, but also thought Rondo was too good. He did admit he thought Rondo's energizing behind-the-back pass was going to be a blocked shot.
"If he had laid it up I would have (blocked it), of course" James said. "That's why he went behind the back." Credit Rondo, because he recognized what was in front of ... er ... behind him.
"He's always chasing me down," Rondo said. "He's had a lot of Top 10 plays and blocks on my layups ... I think what they try to do is Mo tries to run the guard down and slow him up and that enables Bron to get his timing together.
"I knew exactly on that play he was coming. I saw it out of the corner of my eye when I started to break."
So he faked the layup, then went behind the back -- all in one motion. James wound up flying out of bounds, flailing at the ball with his right hand as Rondo floated it right into Allen's hands.
"I had to sell it as if I was going to lay it up," Rondo said, "and he jumped and I made the pass and Tony finished the play."
"That's what you call an energy play from Rondo," Allen said. "I mean, he had energy all night."
To Rivers, the most important energy Rondo showed was defensively, because it's his job to pick up the ball and pressure the opposing team's point guard. Rivers said the pressure Rondo put on the Cavs was "the biggest, biggest part of the entire game."
"That might have been the hardest thing he had to do," Rivers said. "And we were concerned about that robbing him of his energy. And then to go out and do the rebounding and the passing and the scoring ... it was just an amazing effort."