BOSTON (NBA.com exclusive) -- Just as everyone was getting ready to write off the Boston Celtics and, effectively, the Big Three era following Boston's worst home playoff loss in franchise history in Game 3, a transcendent performance from Rajon Rondo changed everything.
Now, with Boston's 97-87 win in Game 4, the second-round series is tied 2-2 with two games to play in Cleveland. It's certainly not Boston's dream situation, but it's infinitely more manageable than the death knell of a 3-1 deficit.
"Nobody wants to be a part of history from a losing effort," Tony Allen said. "Everybody was looking at film yesterday and was down on themselves. Today they came out and just wanted to turn that negative energy that we had last game into something big today."
Rondo was more than big, deserving of every superlative that will be lavished upon him. His 29 points, 13 assists and 18 rebounds all came within the flow of the game that he dominated, and it's just the third time in league history those numbers have appeared in a playoff box score.
"The best way for us as a team to start a fast break is when I rebound," Rondo said. "I had a mind set to just try to help the bigs on the boards. I just try to get as many as possible."
What's been true for Boston all season is that no matter how well Rondo is playing, no matter how well he is scoring against a defense basically begging him to shoot a jumper, the Celtics need someone else to provide fourth-quarter scoring.
They got it from unlikely sources.
"[Rondo's] a good player so you have to give credit where credit is due, but one player can't beat us," Mo Williams said.
Out of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics got four points on eight shots in the fourth quarter. Out of Tony Allen and Glen Davis? Make that 11 points on five shots, all of them layups.
"Individually, Cleveland's pretty good," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We're not going to win that match. But collectively, as a team, we have a shot. We have a chance. And we have to stay that way."
With the Cavaliers having recovered from a double-digit deficit to take a temporary lead in the third quarter, the Celtics appeared to be on the verge of what's become their customary second-half collapse. The game was slowing down, the Celtics had various components in foul trouble and the crowd was anxious.
Then, Tony Allen and Davis joined Rondo in the three-pronged fast break, each of them passing in transition, running the wings, avoiding LeBron James' expected chasedown blocks and scoring, scoring, scoring. Less than four minutes into the final quarter, the Celtics were back up by 12.
"They may be one of the older teams but Rondo is one of the youngest players in the playoffs," James said. "It doesn't matter if those guys are running with him, he's getting the ball up the floor."
Cleveland would crawl back within two one final time, but some questionable decisions by James in the final minutes -- like passing up an isolation at the top of the key with Garnett defending for an Anderson Varejao 17-footer -- and timely offensive rebounds from Rondo sealed the deal.
Most concerning for Cleveland was that Boston -- granted, they were the team up against a wall on its home court -- made nearly every single hustle play available to them. The Celtics scored 23 points in transition; the Cavaliers scored seven. The Celtics scored 13 second-chance points; the Cavaliers had none at all. The Cavaliers pulled down the smallest total of offensive rebounds the Celtics have allowed all season, three, and that's with Boston being notorious for allowing extra possession to hustling, athletic teams.
"We talk about it all the time," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "The most aggressive team is going to win.
"There is no explanation for it," he added. "We talk about it, we preach it, our guys even talk about it and preach it. Now we've just got to go out and do it. We can't afford to play a half on the road against a team like this."
And yet, despite the hustle, the energy, Rondo, Tony Allen, Davis and the best crowd TD Garden has had all season, the Cavaliers still had a chance to win. Maybe that's the lesson, that Cleveland's better, in the end, is better than Boston's best, and the series will come down to the inconsistencies of one team trumping those of another.
But tonight, that's not important. What is important is that the Celtics, so vulnerable throughout the regular season, did not go quietly. And when it's best of three, anything goes.
"It was a collective team effort," Rondo said. "I had a couple of numbers tonight but the biggest thing is that we got the win. That's the bottom line."