LOS ANGELES —Once more, Rajon Rondo swooped in to save the Celtics.
This time, maybe he saved their season.
Rondo had his fifth postseason triple-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Celtics to a 103-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night that evened the NBA finals at one game apiece.
With Ray Allen stalled and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett having never gotten started, it was Rondo who carried the Celtics down the stretch, just as he has so often in his breakout postseason.
“He just did a lot of things, the blocked shots, the steals," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s our quarterback, and he does a lot of stuff for us. He was special tonight."
Rondo made the go-ahead basket with 3:21 remaining, reacting quickly to a loose ball after Kendrick Perkins’ shot was blocked and putting it in to make it 91-90. He blocked Derek Fisher’s shot shortly after, then knocked down a huge jumper that extended the lead to 95-90 with 1:50 to play.
Allen powered the Celtics with seven 3-pointers and 27 points in the first half, but it appeared that would be wasted when he cooled off in the second half. Boston was getting nothing from its other big stars, as Pierce shot only 2 of 11 for 10 points and Garnett battled foul trouble and scored only six.
But Rondo, who’s become the Celtics’ most important player even though he’s still not their biggest name, came through when offense wasn’t coming from anywhere else.
“I think it starts with my energy level, picking up the ball full court," Rondo said. “And then when I get the ball on the offensive end, just trying to push the ball and push the tempo and getting guys easy looks on the floor."
He had a pair of buckets midway through the fourth quarter to keep the Celtics within a possession, then later put them back on top for good and headed back to Boston with momentum.
While not as spectacular as his 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist effort in Game 4 of the second-round series against Cleveland, the circumstances were similar. The Celtics had been blown out in the previous game and knew they needed to get their transition game going again.
That starts with Rondo, and he usually starts it himself by going to get the defensive rebound and quickly pushing the ball up the floor. Only Larry Bird, with 10, has more postseason triple-doubles among Celtics players.
“Rondo controlled the game and got to a lot of balls," Lakers forward Pau Gasol(notes) said. “He was the top rebounder of the game as the point guard, so that tells you something."
The quick tempo helped get Allen going in the first half, as Rondo was able to find him on the break for some open looks from behind the arc. And it contributed to getting Kobe Bryant(notes) in foul trouble.
Rondo drew a fourth foul on Bryant in the third quarter when he swiped the ball from the Lakers’ star, who then knocked Rondo out of bounds.
Rondo hadn’t been as sharp recently as he was in the second-round stunner, battling a sore lower back after some hard falls in the Orlando series. But he played 42 minutes Sunday and appeared in good shape.
Suddenly, so do the Celtics.
“Anything I can do to help the team win is big," Rondo said. “I take pride in my game and how I play the game." - AP