Celtics refuse to panic, earn critical victory
Rajon Rondo reverted to mortal form Friday night. But the Celtics did not need Rondo the superhero or even Rondo the superstar to get back in contention in the Eastern Conference finals.
Two nights after Rondo produced 44 points in defeat, the Celtics took a 101-91 victory over the Miami Heat at TD Garden, their first win in three games of the series.
This time, Rondo (21 points, 10 assists) took on a complementary role, choreographing the offense as Kevin Garnett (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (23 points) asserted themselves. The Celtics now trail, 2-1 in the series, going into Sunday’s Game 4.
The Celtics also capitalized on production from the bench, as Marquis Daniels (9 points, 5 rebounds) helped spark a second-quarter rally.
“The difference was our defensive energy, which allowed us to run,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We ran in the space. I thought we had terrific ball movement for three quarters; fourth quarter, obviously, was not our best.
“I thought our guys had active hands in deflections. And I thought that was the key, and I thought we kept it on the entire game. Our bench - Marquis was phenomenal, Keyon Dooling was phenomenal. Every guy actually that came off the bench contributed. And we needed it.’’
The Celtics led by as many as 24 points, then withstood a Heat rally that cut the lead to 8 in the final quarter.
Down the stretch, Ray Allen, Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo made key plays, and the Celtics prevented LeBron James (34 points) from scoring in the final 7:44.
Miami cut the deficit to 95-87 on a Mario Chalmers 3-point play with 3:09 remaining. Pierce missed, but Garnett’s offensive rebound led to two Pierce free throws and a 97-87 lead with 2:40 to go.
After Dwyane Wade’s follow dunk, Allen rebounded a Wade miss and Rondo went the length of the court for an uncontested layup and a 99-89 advantage with 1:39 remaining.
The Celtics made two stops out of Miami timeouts and Garnett hit a jumper for a 101-89 lead with 56.1 seconds left.
Miami led by as many 6 points in the opening half, but Daniels, Dooling, and Mickael Pietrus helped halt the Heat’s momentum.
The Celtics built a huge cushion in the third quarter. They outscored Miami, 30-21, James producing 10 points and two assists but receiving little support from teammates. Meanwhile, six Celtics scored in the quarter, Pierce’s 3-pointer with 4.2 on the clock making it 85-63.
The Heat pushed the pace early, turning Celtic makes into fast breaks. Miami scored four times on sneakaways following Celtic field goals in the opening half. In the first quarter, Chalmers dunked after a Garnett drive, James broke away six seconds after a Pierce drive, and Wade converted his only first quarter field goal seconds after a Rondo layup.
James totaled 16 points, going 1 for 4 at the foul line, in a 6:39 stretch of the opening quarter. His pull-up extended Miami’s edge to 28-22 with 2:38 to play.
But the Celtics started getting back on defense and closed the quarter with an 8-0 run. Dooling hit a 3-pointer, Daniels made a layup seconds after replacing Rondo, Dooling got a layup after double-teaming James, and Garnett hit a free throw.
The Celtics went to a four-guard lineup in the second quarter, extending a 15-0 run over 6:29 covering the quarters.
The Celtics’ small lineup increased their advantage to 87-63 on Allen’s driving dunk, a second-chance opportunity following a Pietrus rebound, 17 seconds into the final quarter.
But the Heat rallied with a 16-2 run, Mike Miller hitting three 3-pointers in a 4:19 span. Wade’s transition dunk pulled Miami within 91-82 with 5:41 to go. Miller missed a free throw after a technical foul was called on Garnett, who elbowed Chalmers after grabbing an offensive rebound.
Garnett’s stuff restored the Celtics’ 11-point edge with 5:29 left. The Heat failed to score out of a timeout, then Rondo rebounded a James miss and banked in a drive while drawing a foul from Shane Battier. But Rondo missed the foul shot and Chalmers scored on a second-chance drive, then a 3-point play to pull Miami within 8 with 3:09 remaining.
“Everybody knows we’ve been able to bounce back,’’ Pierce said. “We know we’re capable. You know, we’re a team. We’re not going to lose confidence being down, 2-0. We don’t look at the statistics. We don’t look at the records. Records are made to be broken. We’re just going to take it one game at a time, hopefully hold down our home court in Game 4, and see what happens.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.