May 26, 2012, 11:56 PM EDT
There is an argument to be made that Rajon Rondo is the single most compelling player in the NBA, at least the one still playing in these now Conference Finals after the Celtics’ 85-75 win in Game 7 over the Sixers to advance to face Miami. And if anything, Game 7 reinforced that idea as he was cementing the Celtics’ place in the penultimate seven-game series of these playoffs. Rondo was 3-9 for 7 points through the first three quarters. He was sloppy. He was disinterested. He was all the things you worry about with Rajon Rondo.
And then, when Paul Pierce got his sixth foul late in the fourth, Rondo took over. Pierce picked up his sixth at the 4:16 mark. From then on, Rondo went 3-3 from the field, 4-4 from the stripe, scoring 11 points (of Boston’s final 14) and grabbing three rebounds on his way to being the only Celtic besides Larry Bird to snag a triple-double in a Game 7. Rondo can’t shoot, play off him. That’s the book. That’s the story. That’s the scheme.
And he just knocked them down.
There will be talk of the Celtics’ defense, which was its typical self against another terrible effort from the Sixers. There will be talk of KG’s intensity and Ray Allen coming alive. But the story, the obvious story that will be talked about because it is the story, is Rajon Rondo, and how when it looked like the Celtics might have another late collapse, he found the weakness in his game and turned it into a strength. But in reality, Rondo’s long two to really put the Sixers away is in the range he’s hit 4/7 in these playoffs, and shot 43 percent in the regular season. It was not a fluke. He can hit it. He did. He knocked down free throws, which is actually a bigger concern. And the Celtics are moving on.
Coming out of the first-round series with the Hawks, when Chris Bosh went down, it appeared like things were lining up for the Celtics to make a run to the Finals. Everything appeared set. An easy run against the Sixers, face a reeling Miami team or an out-classed Pacers team, get to the Finals and see what happens. The possibility is still there but the confidence is shaken. Ray Allen hit two big 3′s late. But he was 2-7 from three for the night, 3-11 from the field, and struggled to make cuts the night through. Paul Pierce has lost a step. Avery Bradley is out for the season. There are question marks about Greg Stiemsma and Keyon Dooling off the bench. There are reasons to doubt.
Which is why Game 7 encapsulates the Celtics and where they stand. The Big 3 will do some things, especially Kevin Garnett. They’ll provide some support. But against the Heat, as it was in Game 7, it will be on Rondo to make the plays, to make the decisions, to be greater. Last year he was taken out by a dislocated elbow when Wade pulled him down. This year, barring horrible luck, he’ll play. And he’ll have to be the difference for the Celtics if they want to get past the team that ushered them loose in five games last year.
But for now, it’s a win for the Celtics, another trip to the ECF, their third in five years of the Big 3 era, and a feeling that no matter how badly they play, they’ll find a way.
No matter how dark it gets, Rajon Rondo will find the light.
Celtics-Heat begins Monday.
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