BOSTON — Rajon Rondo had 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds and the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers 85-75 in Game 7 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics will open the third round of the NBA playoffs in Miami against the Heat on Monday night.
Rondo scored nine consecutive Boston points, helping the Celtics turn a three-point edge into a double-digit lead after Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 left in the game.
Andre Iguodala scored 18 points, and Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday had 15 apiece for the 76ers, who eliminated the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round but couldn’t do the same with the Celtics.
Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Ray Allen hit a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers after missing his first five attempts. Pierce had 15 points and nine rebounds before fouling out.
That’s when Rondo took over.
The point guard, rebounding from his worst performance of the playoffs in Game 6, scored on a baseline drive and followed it up with a long 2-pointer (originally scored a 3) with 2:47 left. Then he made a 3-pointer with a little more than 2 minutes left to make it a 10-pont game and, after Brand scored on a tip-in, Rondo went to the line as the crowd chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” and hit a pair of free throws to leave Boston with an 80-70 lead with 1:44 left.
The Celtics will now face the actual NBA MVP – LeBron James – along with Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat.
Miami beat Boston in five games in the conference semifinals last year. In 2010, the Celtics eliminated the Heat in the first round and then knocked James and the Cavaliers out in the second.
Philadelphia had one last chance to cut the deficit with 100 seconds to play after Holiday made a 3-pointer to cut it to seven. Pierce was left with nothing to do but cheerlead, waving his arms to encourage the crowd as Garnett went to the line with just under a minute left.
He made one of two, but Holiday lost the ball on the way to the basket and Rondo made a pair of free throws with 54 seconds left and then Allen made a pair.
HEAT: When it came to an opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami knew a definitive answer would be forthcoming in Saturday night’s Boston-Philadelphia game.
When it comes to the status of Chris Bosh, nothing is a given, with the All-Star power forward still listed as being out indefinitely with the lower-abdominal strain sustained in the first half of Game 1 of the Heat’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers.
Asked for clarity regarding Bosh, coach Erik Spoelstra was practically apologetic after Saturday’s practice.
“Not trying to be coy,” Spoelstra said, “he has to heal first, rehab.”
“For our mental state of health,” Spoelstra said, “I love you Chris, but our preparation is without him.”
Based on Saturday’s limited update, it is clear the clock might simply run out on Bosh.