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Rondo offered a wake-up call

Rajon Rondo fired a pass to a trailing Kevin Garnett at right. He recorded a triple double against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their playoff series. Rajon Rondo fired a pass to a trailing Kevin Garnett at right. He recorded a triple double against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their playoff series. (Jim Davis / Globe Staff)
By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / May 13, 2012
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Rajon Rondo said he didn’t get to nap before the game, so he didn’t know what to expect when the Celtics took the floor for the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night at TD Garden.

“I was struggling with my shot a little,’’ said Rondo. “I was turning the ball over, so I was trying to do the intangibles and do everything I could to help my team. I came up with some rebounds, I came up with some assists.’’

It was a slow start for the Celtics, particularly for their starters. Kevin Garnett (29 points) seemed to be dragging his teammates through the game.

But just when it seemed as if he wasn’t going to make a difference, there was Rondo, dropping in three midrange jump shots in the fourth quarter and dribbling out the clock in the closing seconds of the Celtics’ 92-91 victory. Rondo finished with a triple-double: 13 points, 17 assists, and 12 rebounds. It was the eighth postseason triple-double of his career.

The Celtics trailed most of the game, using three comebacks to keep the Sixers close. The Celtics led by 5 points with 56 seconds left, and Jrue Holiday’s jumper cut it to 3.

After the Celtics misfired on the other end, Rondo fouled Holiday with 3.4 seconds left.

“We were yelling, ‘Foul, foul, foul!’ ’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “And Rondo is so smart. He was going to do it anyway, most likely, but we talk about it.

“And it was perfect because it allowed them to get across halfcourt to use more clock, instead of just fouling right away. You know it couldn’t have been done better and it was a great play by Rondo.’’

Rondo’s foul prevented the Sixers from attempting a tying 3-pointer. Holiday made both free throws instead, cutting it to 92-91.

“They had a foul to give,’’ said Rondo. “And Doc told [Paul] Pierce to take the out-of-bounds. I know they were having [Evan] Turner on me, who’s a bigger guard. I felt like I could outquick him and that’s what I did.’’

Pierce found Rondo on the inbounds pass and Rondo sped into the backcourt, dribbling out the final seconds.

“They did a good job getting the ball to Rondo,’’ said 76ers coach Doug Collins, “and he used his speed to run the clock out.’’

Rondo started slowly and didn’t find his pace until the fourth quarter.

“I thought he was searching for what to do early on, how to attack,’’ said Rivers. “We didn’t execute our stuff, we were in random too much.’’

The Celtics shots 30 percent in the first quarter, trying jump shots without much luck. Meanwhile, the 76ers shot 54.5 percent, Andre Iguodala collecting 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. The Celtics chased the 76ers throughout the first half, and trailed, 47-42, at the break.

Rivers gave credit to his second unit for giving the team a jolt. “All they did was up the energy of the game for us,’’ said Rivers. “And then I thought our small lineup was the other good thing for our team.’’

The small lineup - with Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Ray Allen - began connecting, with Rondo dropping shots and directing traffic.

“He is an amazing player,’’ said Collins. “He really, really is. He takes the ball wherever he wants to take it on the floor.’’

Collins said the Sixers failed to match the Celtics’ lineup, particularly on long rebounds.

“They scrummed out some balls and beat us on some hustle balls,’’ said Collins. “It wasn’t like their big guys were rebounding. It’s where everybody’s got to get back and rebound the ball.’’

He may have missed his nap, but Rondo woke up his game in time to help the Celtics take the series lead.

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