BOSTON -- The big lead was slipping away, so Rajon Rondo went back in and did what he'd been doing all game.
He passed the ball to set up baskets -- again and again and again.
Boston's speedy point guard handed out a career-high 18 assists and the Celtics beat the Sacramento Kings 94-86 after squandering most of a 24-point lead Friday night.
"He affects the game in so many different ways," Kevin Garnett said of the four-year veteran. "You want your point guard setting the tone every night. You want your point guard leading us. I'm telling you, man, he's just growing up in front of us. It's great to watch."
The Celtics led 57-33 late in the first half, but with the score 80-70 Rondo returned to the game with 8:21 left and added three assists. The Kings cut it to 87-81 with 3:12 remaining on a 3-pointer by Beno Udrih. Then Boston scored the next five points and stayed in front by at least six after that.
Rondo moved into second place on the Celtics' single-season assists list with 696. He passed Sherman Douglas' total of 683 in 1993-94 and trails only Bob Cousy's 715 in 1959-60. Rondo also had three steals to set a single-season club record of 170. He began the day tied with Rick Fox at 167. And he finished with just two turnovers.
"The team made shots. I just try and give them the ball," Rondo said "What I was proud about was the turnover ratio. I was just trying to keep taking care of the ball."
Paul Pierce scored 22 points, Ray Allen added 20 and Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Celtics to their sixth win in seven games. Pierce also set a franchise record with 5,373 free throws made after hitting 10. He passed John Havlicek's 5,369.
Rondo had six points and four rebounds after getting a triple-double Wednesday night in a 113-99 win over the Denver Nuggets.
The win gave Boston its third straight Atlantic Division title, two days after clinching a playoff berth.
"I guess that's good," said coach Doc Rivers, whose sights are set on an NBA title. "When you have a team with your goals so high, you don't really focus on it."
Sacramento was led by Carl Landry with 30 points and Udrih with 16.
"We battled back and that's all you can ask playing against a team like that," said Dominic McGuire, who started as guard Tyreke Evans missed his fourth straight game following a concussion. "For a young team like this, this is what you've got to measure yourself against. So it was big for us."
Boston rolled to a 32-17 lead after one quarter behind Pierce's 11 points, Garnett's seven rebounds and Rondo's six assists. The Celtics led by 20 at halftime after Allen scored 12 points in the last six minutes before intermission.
The Kings absorbed their fifth loss in six games after coming off a season-low point total in a 93-79 loss Wednesday night to the New Jersey Nets. Landry had just 11 points in that game, the fewest in any of his 19 games since being traded from Houston.
"To lose to one of the worst teams in NBA history is tough," he said. "We just wanted to come out and be aggressive tonight."
The Celtics played without starting center Kendrick Perkins, sidelined for the first time with a sore left knee, but didn't need him.
It was 41-31 after Landry's jumper midway through the second quarter. That's when Allen and Rondo took over to lead a 16-2 run. That made it 57-33, Boston's biggest lead of the game, with 1:37 remaining in the half.
Allen started the surge with a pair of layups on assists by Rondo, then sank a 3-pointer -- all in a span of 48 seconds. Landry's layup broke the streak, but the Celtics quickly started another one on a layup by Rondo. The point guard then fed Allen for a 3-pointer and, after a steal by Rasheed Wallace, the roles reversed as Allen passed to Rondo for a layup.
And when Garnett hit a long jumper -- assisted by Rondo -- the Celtics were up by 24.
Sacramento had 17 turnovers, while the Celtics committed just eight.
"To play Rondo and the Celtics, as aggressive as they are and as good as their defense is, we figured the turnovers would be a problem," Kings coach Paul Westphal said, "and they were."
The last one came with 28 seconds left when Rondo stole the ball from Udrih.
"He just creates uncertainty," Allen said. "He's just so quick, has long arms [and] before you know it the ball's going in the other direction."
Boston G Nate Robinson did not return after spraining his left ankle with 7 minutes left in the second quarter. ... Sacramento C Spencer Hawes left the game for good with a lower back strain with 9:36 remaining in the third quarter. ... The Kings fell to 7-30 on the road and play at Eastern Conference leader Cleveland on Sunday. ... The Celtics beat the Kings for the sixth straight time.
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