|Celtics guards Rajon Rondo (left) and Eddie House stand ready to do whatever coach Doc Rivers needs them to tonight. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Low-profile players have taken on unlikely key roles in Celtics championships of the past. Should Boston defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals this year, the role of the unsung overachiever may have best been filled by Eddie House.
The Celtics took control of the best-of-seven series in the second half of a 97-91 win over the Lakers Thursday night, House scoring 8 points during the deciding rally.
And House, who started only two games this season, may be counted on to either fill in for Rajon Rondo or again lead the way in Game 5 tonight.
Rondo was a key to the Celtics offense this season. The point guard's ability to set up the attack by quickly dribbling into the frontcourt helped his teammates get into the flow and gave them time to recover if something broke down.
After Rondo departed with an ankle bruise during Game 3, the Celtics faltered, failing to generate much offense in an 87-81 loss.
But House again replaced Rondo in Game 4, and this time the Celtics became a high-scoring force. They rallied to tie the game early in the final quarter, squandering three chances to take the lead until House's jumper provided an 84-83 edge with 4:08 remaining. After crossing that threshold, Boston was able to coast to the finish.
"At the time, Coach [Doc Rivers] made the right moves," Rondo said yesterday. "[House] was rolling and we were giving them some tough matchups.
"He did a great job of getting the ball up the court. [House], Paul Pierce, Ray Allen are all capable of getting us into our offense. And they can give us time in the offense."
None, though, can beat the defense off the dribble as consistently and swiftly as Rondo.
"But they can advance the ball with the pass," Rondo said. "They did a great job of that [in Game 4]."
Rondo seemed content with the situation, though he had played only 17 minutes in Game 4, his second-lowest total of the season.
"We made adjustments," House said. "And we did everything better. We executed a whole lot better. At times, we had lulls in our execution but we got back on track."
Before the last two games, House had scored 20 points in 17 playoff games, his most active stretch a 44-minute stint in five games of the conference semifinals. House has scored 17 points in 44 minutes in the last two contests.
But his statistics are much less telling than his intangible contribution to the fourth-quarter lineup, which included Allen, Kevin Garnett, Pierce, and James Posey Thursday night.
"The only team I've been on that was as close as this team was in Phoenix," House said. "In Phoenix, everyone was close, everyone in the organization and the players, too. It's the same thing here and, especially when you go on a journey like this, it brings everyone closer.
"We've built up better unity. It's chemistry and unity together. If you get that together, you end up winning."
House joined the Celtics as a free agent, hoping to capitalize on the arrival of Allen and Garnett.
"Everyone that came along after the big move knew that if we could get together and play the right way, we could accomplish something special," he said.
In the last two games, House has been uninhibited with his shooting, despite the lack of playing time. He had converted nine of 36 field goal attempts in the playoffs before Game 4. Then he totaled 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes.
"You have to get ready, because you never know when your number is going to be called," House said. "And you have to stay ready, just in case the coach does call you. When I'm on the bench, in my mind I'm coaching the game. What plays would I call if I was in there? I look for the mismatches, so I'm prepared when I do go in."
House believes the Lakers will put forth a good effort tonight.
"They will come out fighting extremely hard," House said. "They will be extra aggressive. Their backs are against the wall and they will come out fighting."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.