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“M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
The chants rained down for a more-than-deserving Rajon Rondo on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, as he hit both of his free throws to put the finishing touches on a performance that will go down as one of the best in Celtics postseason history. Already the undoubted MVP for the team up to this point in the playoffs (Kevin Garnett is a somewhat distant second), Rondo took Game 4 in his hands and broke it down phase-for-phase; dominating in every facet he could for a man at his position and size.
And what a man-sized performance it was. Rondo finished the day with 29 points, 13 assists and a playoff career-high 18 rebounds in front of 18,000 plus on Mother’s Day in Boston, leading the Boston Celtics to a 97-87 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and a 2-2 tie in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Celtics had to have this game. After the embarrassment endured on Friday night in a contest where the Celtics never even had a sniff, the prospect of heading back to Quicken Loans Arena in a 3-1 hole would have been too much for this team to overcome. Given the struggles of Paul Pierce (which continued on Sunday), and the dominating display put on by Lebron James and the Cavs in Game 3, the Celtics were looking at a must-win that would at least guarantee them one more home game in the series.
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen each chipped in 18 points in a strong effort to pick up the slack for the aforementioned Pierce, whose minutes were staggered by foul trouble and continued inconsistency in his game. The addition of quality minutes on both sides of the ball from Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, and Tony Allen (who scored a playoff career-high 15 points), helped to to quell a Cavaliers run late in the third quarter and even the series at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland on Tuesday night.
While the Cavaliers started quickly with a 7-0 lead, and Perkins and Pierce fell into early foul trouble, Rondo and the Celts grabbed a hold of the flow of the game by creating defensive stops and allowing Rondo to set the pace in transition. With Rondo at the helm the Celts were the more aggressive team, pushing the ball on offense (a 23-7 advantage in fast break points), and staying active on the boards, creating a +14 advantage overall for the game.
After Friday’s 21-point outburst by Lebron in the first quarter, Boston managed to stifle him to eight points and had a 31-22 lead after the first frame. It was clear that Boston would push the ball every chance they had, and it was also clear that this would be another night they’d have to do it without Pierce, whose struggles continued with a nine-point effort on 3-8 shooting and five fouls. Perkins’ impact came on the defensive side of the ball, where he grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots, but he was also in foul trouble in his 24 minutes of work. When Perk was out of the game, Shaquille O’Neal worked to put his stamp on this game, with a 17-point effort that came significantly (and shockingly) from the foul line. The game had seemed closer than the nine-point lead the Celtics maintained heading into the half, and while Rondo was checking in at 18 points, six assists, and seven rebounds, he was just getting warmed up.
The Celtics spent the third quarter treading water against Cleveland, which is not something you want to do against these Cavs. Despite his disappearance, Paul Pierce’s actual absence from the lineup led to spacing problems for the Celtics, as Lebron James played well off of Tony Allen and created a log-jam in the painted area, where the Celtics were thriving off of Rondo’s energy. A Mo Williams three-pointer brought out a sense of urgency that eerily penetrated the crowd, as they watched an 11-point lead dissipate and their team once again struggling to close out a game. A fast-break dunk to Tony Allen off a beautiful behind the back pass from Rondo after he faked going for the layup (you could tell Rajon monitored where King James was for every stride), as well as the continued efforts of Kevin Garnett, who is averaging 18 points and just over eight rebounds for the series, and the Celtics did well to hold a two point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
And this fourth quarter started out well for the Celts. O’Neal left early after picking up his fifth foul, and the Cavaliers proceeded to melt down a bit, committing four turnovers in a span of four crucial minutes. The Celtics had to withstand another 9-0 run by the Cavaliers, and more solid, spirited minutes for Davis, Wallace, and Tony Allen served the Celtics well in overcoming two separate three-point plays from James and Anderson Varejao. Pierce commited his fifth foul on James’ three-point play and Varejao’s followed to cut the lead to two, but Rondo willed Boston past the Cavaliers in the closing minutes to ensure a Game 6 in Boston on Thursday night.
With Game 5 looming on Tuesday, the Celtics have set themselves up for a steal and an opportunity to close this series out at home. Boston proved throughout the regular season that they could win at any hostile arena, and have done so already in this series. With Rondo and Garnett on a roll, and Ray Allen holding steady throughout this series, the certainty of the Celtics’ chances in the event we go seven games would still seem to lay heavily on whether or not Pierce can wake up.
LeBbron is still going to be LeBron (only 22 points on Sunday, but still led his team in rebounding and assists as well), and while the thought of him and Pierce trading baskets like they did in 2008 in an epic seventh game sounds like a dream to the basketball purist, the Celtics and their fans would much rather come back to Boston on Thursday with a chance to close out this series and move on to the conference finals.
Tags: Anderson Varejao, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Quicken Loans Arena, Rajon Rondo, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Shaquille O'Neal, TD Garden, Tony Allen