Rondo, Celtics Take Season Series from Heat
BOSTON – Rajon Rondo captained the Celtics to a season series-clinching victory over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat Wednesday night. Rondo made play after play in the clutch to lead Boston to a 101-96 win.
Every time Boston needed a play in the final two minutes of the night, Rondo was there to provide it. He took his game to another level in order to help the Celtics reach the winner’s circle.
“He played with a lot of juice today,” Brad Stevens said of Rondo. “There’s no question about that.”
That juice was at an all-time high as Rondo began his dominating stretch in the clutch. The first play he pulled off was an absolute shocker and energizer all at the same time.
Rondo hauled in a rebound with 2:04 remaining in the game after Chris Bosh missed a jumper for Miami. But shortly after the point guard gained control of the ball, Udonis Haslem reached in to grab it as well. A jump ball was called, setting the stage for one of the most lopsided matchups these two teams could possibly create.
Or so we thought.
Rondo, all 6-foot-1 of him, set up for the jump ball on one side of the free-throw line. Haslem, a long, 6-foot-8 forward, stared down at him form the other side of the stripe. This was a match made in Heaven for the Heat; at least, until those stares turned into leaps.
With Rondo and Haslem crouched and waiting, a referee held the ball high above their heads before tossing it up for the taking. This is as mano-a-mano as it gets. Here’s the ball. Who wants it more?
The answer, as no Celtic fan would be surprised to learn, was Rondo.
Boston’s captain rose high into the air to tip the ball back in his teammates’ direction. Jeff Green eventually took possession of the ball, sending the Garden crowd into a loud roar, before giving it right back to his point guard.
“That was great,” Stevens said of the play. “He got to the ball very quickly on that, and fortunately we got it. He did a great job.”
A job well done, but there was still work to be done.
At the other end of the court, Rondo took the offense into his own hands by driving toward the basket from the right wing. He gained separation from his defender and pulled the trigger on a runner from eight feet out. The ball gently kissed off of the glass and fell through the net to put Boston on top 99-94 with 1:44 remaining.
Following a basket by Dwyane Wade and a missed jumper by each team, Rondo hauled in his 10th and final rebound of the game with 43 seconds remaining. Leading 99-96, the Celtics still needed a bucket to ice the game. None other than Rondo would provide it.
No. 9 played the ensuing possession to perfection. He allowed Boston to dribble the shot clock down to its final seconds before driving to the basket in a similar fashion to his previous score. He found an opening yet again and fired up a nine-foot floater from the baseline that splashed its way home with 18 seconds remaining to seal Boston’s win.
“He made two huge floaters,” Stevens said. “Those are two tough shots.”
Shots that Rondo has not been making since he returned on Jan. 17 from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has shot only 40.7 percent from the floor this season from eight feet and in and is rated as below average on runners by Synergy Sports. Rondo admits that he has been frustrated by his lack of success around the basket, but he’s also encouraged by Wednesday night’s results.
“That’s the most frustrating part of my game that hasn’t come back,” Rondo said. “I expected it to be there, but I made two tonight and I’ll continue to work on it.”
Rondo’s hard work is beginning to pay off. Stevens said that the floater is a “huge” part of Rondo’s arsenal and Rondo showed us why against Miami. His incredible jump ball victory was the appetizer for Wednesday’s final two minutes. His two runners were the main course and sealed the win for Boston.
It’s no secret that there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about in Celticsland this season, but on Wednesday night, there was plenty to celebrate.
The Boston Celtics wrapped a bow on their season series against the two-time defending NBA champions. They took it home with a 2-1 edge, and they did it in impressive fashion - with their captain leading the way.