The superheroes on the Celtics Saturday night were no different. Kevin Garnett delivered another monstrous performance for the aged with a season-high 29 points, extending his May resurgence to two games and leading the Boston Celtics past the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Garden 92-91. Not lost in KG's expansive shadow was Rajon Rondo, who produced another triple-double (the 21st of his career) cemented in his 17 assists.
"Big Ticket" meets "Season Pass."
The Hulk is big and green, giving the "Avengers" incredible strength triggered by fury (as opposed to Nick Fury) and gamma rays. While Garnett doesn't carry the bulk of his on-screen counterpart, he wears green, plays with an unmitigated rage and tore up two teams in just three days.
It's Rondo, however, who has been radioactive this postseason. He's averaged 16.1 points, 12.6 assists, had two triple-doubles, an ejection, a suspension, an on-camera outburst and some delicious outside shooting to punctuate everything else. He's now fifth in playoff triple-doubles with eight and only trails Magic Johnson by a mere 22. (Bird had 11.) As Ray Allen labors off the bench, continues the quietest postseason this side of Milan Lucic and slips into the twilight of his career with the Celtics, Rondo is becoming that floor leader and offensive ignition coil we'd always hoped he would be (he always thought he was).
Rondo even dribbled the ball to run out the clock, but this time it was by design - a brilliant scheme courtesy of Rondo and Doc Rivers.
Up by one with 3.4 seconds to play, Paul Pierce inbounded the ball to Rondo and he sped into the backcourt and outran Evan "Never Going to To Catch Him" Turner. Planned and executed to perfection. "I told Doc to give me the ball and I would try to use my speed. I thought about the throwing it up but we have the Jumbotron and it would have hit it ... I just tried to use my quickness and escape," Rondo said in his postgame press conference.
Rondo sprinted untouched in the backcourt - Phily had a foul to give - and was faster than Turner and the clock. Rondo's outburst/temper tantrum at the end of Game 1 against Atlanta seems like a million years ago, or in Rondo's case, way back in grade school. Something happened to Rondo after that game and the suspension that followed. The petulant point-guard has managed to keep his composure since shoving Marc Davis and has begun to demonstrate the makeup of an adult capable of floor leadership and clutch shooting.
The Celtics did not need the refs to give them this one. Nor was there reason for caterwauling about those dastardly officials who had the nerve to call a foul on someone sporting a shamrock. This one was all about making plays, hitting shots and hustle. Three of the main ingredients when it comes to stitching together one of those banners.
Rondo dribbled things out and got caught by a dancing Al Horford at the end of Game 5 against Atlanta. But that was as much as result of solid defense as it was any mental lapse or emotional failing on his Rondo's part.
The victory over Philadelphia ("victory over Philadelphia" being the second sweetest phrase after "victory over New York") was a necessity for Boston because Game 2 is Monday night. That caps off stretch of three games in five days. Even the "Avengers" eventually need a break (Note: Make sure you stay until the end of the all of the credits). Garnett has a Larry Bird-like 57 points and 25 rebounds in his past two playoff games. KG is chugging from the Fountain of Youth, but three such efforts in a row from the 35-year-old KG (he turns 36 Saturday) in such a tight span might be too much to expect. After all, he's no "Iron Man." (Hopefully Garnett will use stuff like that for inspiration.)
While Rondo has not replaced Allen in terms of position (that would be Avery Bradley), he has taken over for Allen when it comes to dropping those key jump shots that Boston needs to ignite its offense. Philadelphia led 77-67 with 11 minutes to play before Boston ripped off a 23-7 run. It was Rondo's 20-foot jumper that cut it to 80-79, and Rondo's 17-foot jumper from the left-key with 3:47 left that gave Boston the lead at 83-82.
Garnett must continue to perform at his 2004 level for the Celtics to manifest any hopes of defeating Miami - never mind sewing up Banner 18. "We're going to ride Kevin all the way until his wheels fall off," said Pierce in postgame in comments aired on Comcast SportsNet. "He's bringing it every night ... He's looking magnificent."
Rondo, however, has seized control of the team and his temperament. Forget about his so-called "outburst" after Game 5. The Twitterverse went crazy because he had the nerve to ask a cameraman to get out of his way while he walked with his family outside the interview room. Hard to rip Rondo for that. At least he was with his family and not on the golf course.
Most important, Rondo continues to do the dishes. With the Celtics down 79-71, Rondo hooked a feed to Garnett who was loitering underneath the basket. Garnett's slam cut it to six with 9:03 to play. Rondo assisted on four of the five baskets Garnett scored in the fourth quarter. Easy pickings thanks to quick and efficient passing.
"I didn't think I would play the way I played tonight, I didn't get a nap tonight," said Rondo, who struggled early and didn't score for the first 22:43. "I didn't know what to expect ... I came up with some rebounds and came up with some assists and ended up with a triple-double."
Rondo should be able to squeeze in a nap or two before Monday night. And Garnett can only improve with age.
The rest of us can just sit back and watch the special effects.
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