BOSTON, Massachusetts (AFP) –
The Boston Celtics punched their ticket to the NBA Eastern Conference finals with an 85-75 victory over Philadelphia behind a “triple-double” by Rajon Rondo.
Rondo scored 18 points with 10 assists and 10 rebounds as the Celtics won the decisive game seven in the Eastern Conference second-round series.
The Celtics will have little time to relax. They will open the best-of-seven Eastern conference finals in Miami against the star-studded Heat on Monday night. That winner will face San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics led by three points when Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 remaining.
Rondo scored Boston’s next nine points as the Celtics stretched their advantage to double-digits.
Rondo scored 11 points in the final quarter and notched his ninth career playoff “triple-double”.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Boston fans began chanting “Beat the Heat!”
Celtics veteran Kevin Garnett, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds, echoed the sentiment.
It will mark the third straight post-season that the Heat and Celtics meet.
Boston won in five games in 2010 in the first round and the Heat won in five last year in the second round.
Brandon Bass scored 16 and Pierce ended with 15 points and nine rebounds for Boston.
Andre Iguodala scored 18 points for Philadelphia, which had eliminated injury-plagued top seeds Chicago in the first round.
Iguodala drained a three-pointer from the left corner with just over four minutes remaining to pull Philadelphia within 71-68.
Pierce then fouled out, but Rondo made sure the Sixers couldn’t take advantage.
“Rondo wants to run the team,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s a great quarterback. But tonight, obviously with Paul fouling out, he had to take charge of the team.”
The Sixers shot just 35 percent from the field as guards Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot 7-for-26.
However, the young Philadelphia team pressured Boston defensively.
Boston’s Ray Allen missed five three-point attempts before finally making one from the top of the arc early in the fourth quarter, taking Boston’s lead to 60-54.
Philadelphia held on, but every time they closed the gap the Celtics found an answer.
After Garnett came up with a steal, Rondo’s layup gave Boston a 73-68 lead. After a Philadelphia miss, Rondo made a long jumper as the shot clock ticked down.
His next shot was a clear three-pointer and gave Boston a 10-point lead, 78-68, with 2:09 to play.
Philadelphia didn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“He did what he had to do,” Holiday said of Rondo. “When Paul Pierce went out, I’m thinking ‘Man, let’s go’. But Rajon Rondo, he came through for his team. He put his team on his back.”
Despite his clutch play when it mattered, Rondo was unhappy with his performance early in the contest, particularly two early turnovers that he said contributed to two quick fouls on Pierce.
Rivers said that was typical of his point guard, and he was pleased that Rondo was able to shake it off.
“He’s so hard on himself,” Rivers said. “I thought he really fought himself tonight and won, and that was huge. It was a big step for him.”