BOSTON - Rajon Rondo stepped up when his team needed him most and delivered another memorable playoff performance, finishing with a triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) to lead the Boston Celtics past the Philadelphia 76ers, 85-75, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Saturday evening at TD Garden.
"He was terrific," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Rondo down the stretch was huge."
Boston will now face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, marking the third time since the 2007-08 season that the Celtics have reached the conference finals. The first two games of the series will be played in South Beach, with Game 1 on Monday evening.
"We feel we can beat Miami," said Rondo. "Obviously we got to this point. There's no doubt in my mind that we can, so we've got to go down there and take care of business."
Rondo scored nine straight points down the stretch in the fourth and finished the frame with 11 points. Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Brandon Bass scored 16 and Paul Pierce, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter, amassed 15 points and nine boards. Ray Allen finished with 11 points, six of which came in the form of clutch threes in the fourth. Boston shot 42 percent and made 3-of-17 shots from three-point range.
"It was a challenge," Pierce said about winning the series. "You know how Philly played in the series I really got to take my hat off for them. You know it sure did seem like they were an 'A' team the way they played, they way they came out and fought every night."
Andre Iguodala scored 18 to lead Philadelphia, which was held to 35 percent shooting. Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand each scored 15 points and were the only other Sixers to reach double-digit scoring. Lou Williams had seven points to lead the Philly's bench scoring.
"We struggled to score," said Sixers coach Doug Collins, whose team averaged 85.4 points in seven games against Boston. "We're fighting, clawing, and staying in the game."
Boston got the start it desperately needed, opening up a 10-2 lead and forcing Philadelphia to call an early timeout. The Celtics opened the game making 4-of-7 baskets while the Sixers only made one of their first 10 shots and two of their first 12. Philly would battle back, using a strong period from Brand (eight points) to knot the score at 20 through one quarter.
Philly was held to two points for just over five minutes to open the second quarter, during which time Boston took advantage and built its lead to five points, 27-22. The Sixers brought themselves within two points, 32-30 at 4:22, and again at the 1:50 mark (34-32), but the Celtics closed out the quarter on a 7-1 run to take a 41-33 advantage into halftime. Bass led the C's with 10 points at the break, six of which he scored in the first quarter. Brand was held scoreless in the second, but still led Philadelphia with eight points. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field in the half, with the Celtics shooting 37.5 percent (15-for-40) and the Sixers shooting a dismal 28.2 percent (11-for-39) in the opening half.
A strong start to the second half pushed the C's lead to 11 points, the first double-digit lead of the game, at 49-38 with 8:04 to go in the third. Philly wouldn't go away, though, bringing the game within a point, 53-52, with 34.5 ticks left and trailed 55-52, after three quarters. Turner had six points while Iguodala and Holiday each scored five to pace the Sixers.
Rondo's strong performance to end the fourth was more than enough for Boston to prevail.