As the end of the third quarter drew to a close, Boston all-star point guard Rajon Rondo limped back to his team’s bench to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. In that moment, it’s a good thing none of those fawning admirers dared to ask him for an autograph.
His right arm perilously hanging from his body and his lower back throbbing in pain courtesy of a dislocated elbow he suffered in an ugly spill with Miami star guard Dwyane Wade just moments earlier which took away his range of motion, Rondo nonetheless found the strength to gut his way through a critical fourth quarter stretch during which he scored two of his three baskets to lead the Celtics to a 97-81 must-have win over the Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Celtics now trail the series 2-1 with Game 4 slated for Monday night in Boston. “I didn’t have to do much scoring---just directing,” deflected Rondo. “That just using your mouth, using my legs.”
In truth none of the Celtics could have gotten much of what they accomplished done without the help of their slick handling floor general. Rondo also finished with a game-high 11 assists, many of them coming on all star teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s combined 22 field goals.
“He showed he’s a really tough young individual,” said Garnett, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 18 rebounds. “I don’t know what he’s going to be like when he’s 35, but right now he’s playing pretty well.”
Miami led 46-44 at halftime, but the Celts scored 16 of the first 20 points after intermission to take a lead they never relinquished. Pierce finished with 27 points for Boston while Ray Allen added 15 points and Delonte West 11.
“We understand fully now how tough it is to take down a champion,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “All this fuel, the last three days that was going on, I was cringing. Because you know this is a proud group, and you knew they would have a response.” And as much as anyone, Rondo, whose availability of the remainder of the series is still in question, made sure it was delivered loud and clear.
“It was awesome to see him back on the floor,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “Clearly, that got everyone excited.”
Dwyane Wade led Miami with 23 points and LeBron James added 15. --- Glenn Minnis