Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Game 3 between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers wasn't the nail-biter we had all been hoping for.
But at least the Celtics, who emerged as a 107-91 winner Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia, gave fantasy basketball connoisseurs plenty to sink their teeth into.
When he's not getting suspended for bumping officials, Rajon Rondo is an assist wizard and the architect of Boston's offensive attack. The man Reggie Miller calls "a triple-double waiting to happen" painted another pretty stat line on Wednesday night, notching 23 points and 14 assists in 41 minutes.
Rondo's passing prowess (12.9 apg in the playoffs) and his commitment on defense have never been in question, but his streaky shooting and his high turnover rate have rubbed fantasy owners the wrong way in the past. This deficiency is probably what prevented Rondo from being a top-10 selection in fantasy drafts this past season (he was taken 23rd on average).
The 26-year-old will never lead the league in 3-point shooting, but it's evident that this part of his game has improved greatly. Rondo was 1-3 from the 3-point line Wednesday (we'll ignore the fact that one of these attempts barely hit the backboard) and he knocked down all four of his free throw attempts.
In the playoffs, Rondo is shooting seven percentage points higher from the charity stripe than he did in the regular season (66.7 percent versus 59.7) and his 3-point percentage has improved similarly (33.3 percent in the playoffs compared to 23.8 in the regular season).
Of course, most of Rondo's buckets continue to come on drives to the hoop, an area where he is extremely difficult to stop because of his quickness and creativity. Rondo gets to the hole and finishes with such ease that you almost wonder if he could score 20 points a game if he wanted to do so. That will probably never happen because he is such a dominant distributor, but when Boston's other shooters become stagnant, Rondo certainly has no problem taking the game into his own hands and carrying the scoring burden for the Celtics.
Rondo didn't manage any steals in Wednesday night's victory but he's still one of the game's more reliable contributors in that category. Only Chris Paul and Jason Kidd have averaged more steals per game than Rondo (2.9 spg) during the postseason.
Rondo is likely to always maintain his high turnover rate because he has the ball in his hands so often. With that said, Rondo did take pretty good care of the ball in Games 2 and 3 after an awful, seven-turnover performance in Game 1. He's only committed one turnover in each of his last two outings.
The Celtics point guard might be one of the most effective, 6-foot-1 rebounders the league has ever seen. Rondo chipped in with six boards in Game 3 and he's averaging 6.6 rpg in the postseason.
Kevin Garnett likes to play the villain when he is on the court but he's been a hero on the stat sheet.
Garnett became fantasy relevant again about midway through the season when he replaced Jermaine O'Neal as the team's starting center. His 15.8 regular-season ppg was Garnett's highest since 2008-09 and in the playoffs he's been even more dominant. The Big Ticket is scoring at a rate of 23.7 ppg in the 76ers series while rebounding at an equally impressive clip of 12 rpg.
Garnett's incredible wingspan allows him to collect rebounds in all directions and his combination of length and good ballhandling make him incredibly difficult to defend. It also doesn't hurt that Garnett is one of the best mid- range shooting big men in the entire NBA.
Paul Pierce looked like he might be a non-factor in this series after turning in a pair of pedestrian efforts in Games 1 (14 points) and 2 (just seven points on 2-for-9 field-goal shooting). But after he exploded for 24 points and 12 rebounds in Game 3, it's safe to say he is back on everyone's fantasy radar.
Pierce enjoyed a strong Game 3 by doing what has made him one of the most effective scorers of this generation - getting to the free throw line.
The 34-year-old looked tentative in Games 1 and 2, perhaps still bothered by the sprained MCL that he struggled with against Atlanta in the first round. He only attempted 10 free throws combined in those two contests.
Wednesday, Pierce was extremely aggressive, throwing down a pair of powerful two-handed slams in the game's opening minutes. Pierce is a good enough long- range shooter (36.6 percent 3-point percentage this year) to get away with not going inside, but that wasn't his mind-set on Wednesday night. He finished 11-for-14 from the free throw line, while also contributing 12 rebounds and four assists.
Pierce, Garnett and Rondo provided almost all of the offense Boston would need on Wednesday night, but Brandon Bass poured in 10 points and five rebounds for good measure while Mickael Pietrus added 13 points off the bench.
Pietrus isn't as trusty a fantasy option as his Wednesday stat line implies. He basically only shoots 3-pointers and when he makes a couple of them, he thinks he's Dirk Nowitzki and it's hard to get him to stop shooting. Luckily, the 3- pointers were falling for him in Game 3.
Bass isn't a top-tier fantasy player either, but he's steady and he'll give you double-digit points with six or seven rebounds most nights. He seemed to struggle when he went inside on Wednesday night, probably because of his lack of height (6-8 isn't particularly tall for an NBA power forward), but when he's open on the baseline, or from 15 feet out, Bass rarely misses.
Recently the Miami Heat's big three was reduced to a dynamic duo after the loss of Chris Bosh (abdominal strain), so the Celtics have to like their chances in the Eastern Conference. Using the Heat's vulnerability as extra incentive, the Celtics should be able to keep piling on the points and producing huge fantasy numbers.
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