Posted May 8 2011 1:07AM
BOSTON -- Rajon Rondo is one stubborn son of a gun, or a "tough mother-[expletive]," as Dwyane Wade described him late Saturday night.
When his left elbow bent the wrong way under the weight of his and Wade's bodies with 7:02 left in the third quarter, the assumption by pretty much everyone who watched the gruesome replay was that he was done.
Done for the game. Done for the series. Done for the postseason. See you in October.
But apparently, Rondo assumed differently.
With his dislocated elbow popped back in place, Rondo was back on the Celtics' bench by the end of the quarter, with teammate Glen Davis shooting a look that said "What the heck are you doing out here?"
At the start of the fourth, Rondo was back on the floor. He basically played one-handed the rest of the way, and somehow did it effectively, registering four points, a rebound, an assist and a steal in the final 12 minutes.
It was an inspirational performance. One for the ages, considering the stage and circumstances.
"Shorty's a real tough dude," Kevin Garnett said afterward. "He's showing us a lot of heart, a lot of grit."
But as inspirational as the performance was, and as important of a player as he is in this series, Rondo's fourth-quarter return really didn't make much of a difference in the Boston Celtics' 97-81 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. The Celtics were on a run when he got hurt and didn't lose any momentum while he was back in the trainer's room. By the time he stepped back on the court, the score and momentum were each well in Boston's favor.
We'll remember Rondo most when we look back at this game, but the win wasn't about one guy. It was about a championship contender fighting back from the first two-game deficit it's faced in the last four years. The Celtics aren't getting back those last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, but they just showed the Los Angeles Lakers a thing or two about responding to adversity.
"That was a championship caliber response," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They played harder than us and they played more efficiently than us."
It started in the opening moments. Defensively, the Celtics were aggressive, forcing the Miami offense to start late and far away from the basket. Offensively, they got huge performances from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Pierce set the tone early, as the Celtics scored on eight of their first 10 possessions of the game. He finished with 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting.
Garnett carried the load late, as Boston scored 35 points on its first 25 possessions of the second half. He knew he had to win his matchup with Chris Bosh and after failing to do so in the first two games, he clearly did it on Saturday, finishing with 28 points and 18 rebounds.
"He had 20 shots in Game 2, but it wasn't the 20 shots we wanted," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Tonight, he got the 20 shots that we wanted."
The Celtics' success didn't end with their All-Stars. Their bench, the team's Achilles heel for the last two months, actually increased the lead in the third quarter. And the defense was stifling throughout, keeping Wade and LeBron James from getting many clean looks at the basket.
Pierce, Garnett, bench and defense. Those were the performances that the Celtics needed on this night. Rondo's Willis Reed act was pretty much gravy.
"I'm sure it gave them a lift," Spoelstra said, "but they had already established an energy to the game. They hit us first, they knocked us back, we took a few hits to the chin and we weren't able to respond in a positive manner."
The Heat will get another chance to respond and take complete control of the series in Game 4 on Monday. And we know now that the Celtics won't make it easy. No team has more top-line talent than Miami, but no team has more pride than Boston. And they're not handing over control of the Eastern Conference without a fight. This series just got a lot more interesting ... as long as the Celtics can stay in one piece.
"It's a major concern," Rivers said of Rondo's injury going forward. "Honestly, moving forward, we'll have to see, but it's going to be interesting. I'll put it that way."
It would be slightly less concerning if Delonte West was completely healthy. West did a terrific job backing up Rondo and Ray Allen, scoring 11 points and dishing out three assists. But he injured his left shoulder in the process.
There's nothing to do but move forward, however.
"We're a no-excuse team," Rondo said. "We show up Monday night and we're out on the court and we're playing. Don't ask me how I feel. I'm going to play regardless. I'm not going to use it as an excuse."
Stubborn. Tough. Maybe a little crazy. The veteran Celtics are following Rajon Rondo's lead, and the Miami Heat will have to fight just as hard from here on out.
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