BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 85-75 in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series on Saturday night at TD Garden. (Boston wins the series, 4-3.)
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Rajon Rondo put the Celtics on his shoulders over the final four minutes, capping a triple-double that saw him put up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over 43 minutes. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and 13 rebounds over 38:25, while Brandon Bass quietly kicked in 16 points. The 76ers shot a mere 35 percent (28-of-80) from the floor and Andre Iguodala paced the visitors with 18 points.
The 76ers were within a point after a Thad Young tip-in to open the fourth quarter, but Boston's veterans wouldn't let them surge ahead. Garnett sandwiched a pair of jumpers around a Ray Allen 3-pointer. Allen -- a woeful 1-for-9 to start the game and having missed his first five 3-point attempts -- willed in a triple from just to the right of the top of the arc. It was Boston's first 3-pointer of the game after going 0-for-14 over the first 38:09. Allen added a second trifecta with 5:51 to go for a 69-61 lead. Philly wouldn't go quietly, but then Rondo took over.
RONDO TAKES OVER AFTER PIERCE DEPARTS
Paul Pierce fouled out after an offensive foul with 4:16 to play and Boston clinging to a 71-68 lead. The Celtics clearly needed either Rondo or Garnett to step up. It was Rondo, who converted a driving layup, then a late-clock jumper (originally ruled a 3, but soon overturned) for an eight-point edge. As if angered by the ruling, Rondo drilled a 3-pointer from about two steps behind the arc on the right wing, then added a pair of free throws for an 80-70 edge with 1:45 to go.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
Mickael Pietrus, famous for his Game 7 exploits here as a member of the Orlando Magic in 2009, turned back the clock a bit and showcased why they call him "Air France" when he split Lavoy Allen and Elton Brand to get into the paint, then skyed for a thunderous jam that had Boston out front 17-12.
C'S LEAN ON THEIR DEFENSE IN FIRST HALF
The Celtics scored the game's first six points and led 12-4 early on, but couldn't create separation despite a revved-up Garden. Foul trouble aided the 76ers in sticking around despite shooting a mere 28.6 percent (6-of-21) in the first quarter and the game was tied at 20 after 12 minutes. Boston's defense continued to make things tough on Philly in the second quarter (5-of-18, 27.8 percent) and a 7-1 burst to close out the half had Boston out front 41-33 at the break.
It wasn't quite as star-studded as Game 5 here, but Boston's pro athletes (past and present) were well represented. Those sitting courtside included New England Patriots Kevin Faulk and Vince Wilfork, along with former Celtics Jeff Green and Walter McCarty. A split-screen of McCarty and Brian Scalabrine, who is working the playoffs with Comcast SportsNet, sent the Garden into a fourth-quarter frenzy. Paula Abdul also got some JumboTron time as part of the 250th consecutive sellout at TD Garden.
WHAT IT MEANS
As usual, the Celtics kept things interesting for much of the night. And just when it seemed that Pierce fouling out might be a potential back-breaker, Rondo took over and carried this team to the finish line. It was an ugly, ugly series, but Boston is headed to the conference finals, where it'll give a resting Heat team its best punch. The crowd serenaded the Celtics with a "Beat the Heat" chant over the final minute, but it clearly won't be easy. The Celtics will worry about that starting tomorrow. For now, they can savor finding a way to grind through this series and outlast the young Philadelphia legs.