|The Celtics supported each other all night, like when Kendrick Perkins was helped up by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Together, they got it done
LOS ANGELES — It may not have taken an entire village to slay the monster. But it did take a roster.
Oh, sure, Rajon Rondo’s mighty 19-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double was a transcendent performance in which his impact went far beyond the numbers. But what really distinguished this vital series-knotting 103-94 victory over the Lakers last night was the collective effort it took to win a game in which Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett shot 4 for 16.
You start with a record-setting first-half shooting performance by Ray Allen, who hit his first seven 3-point attempts en route to a 27-point half. Take a couple of those away and it would have been a far less joyous plane ride back to Boston.
Then go with big-time relief performances from Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis, who combined for 15 points and 14 rebounds. Take those away and it would have been a far less joyous plane ride back to Boston.
Next consider an enormous boost provided by Nate Robinson, who scored 7 absolutely energizing points at a time when Rondo was completely exhausted. Take that six-minute outburst away and it would have been a far less joyous plane ride back to Boston.
Then imagine that Rondo had missed the bus, or decided to take in the Dodgers-Braves game. It would have been a far less joyous plane ride back to Boston.
But it was a happy bunch of Celtics who left LA with the desired split in the first two games of the series. The team — that’s T-E-A-M — had a lot to be proud of, starting with a collective defensive effort that limited the Lakers to 41 percent shooting and continued with a sound offensive approach that resulted in the dazzling total of 28 assists on their 36 baskets. Teams with that type of assist/basket ratio seldom lose.
This was, above all, a recognizable NBA game, as opposed to the eyesore opener. The reason was simple: referees Ken Mauer, Monty McCutchen, and Mike Callahan refereed the game they saw, as opposed to the game they wished to impose on everyone. Yes, people on both sides wound up in foul trouble, and each side felt aggrieved. Boston at one point had four frontcourt players with four fouls apiece. The Lakers moaned because Kobe Bryant wound up with five fouls and Ron Artest fouled out.
But the fact is the officials allowed the game to evolve into proper basketball. Derek Fisher had two quick fouls guarding Allen because he was manhandling him to a ludicrous degree. There was a direct connection between that and Allen’s ability to get off to a great start on a night when he was in a frightening shooting rhythm.
Ray was, as they say, in the zone during the first half. “Our team could see it, and you could see they were doing everything they could to find him,’’ said Doc Rivers.
The other key was that the Celtics’ defense created enough bad LA possessions to get Rondo into transition. And when Rondo is out in the open floor, all kinds of interesting things can happen, whether it’s open threes for the likes of Allen or Pierce, hard drives to the hoop by Rondo, or lookaway assists for layups or dunks by a teammate.
The Celtics needed all the above, because they were once again getting killed by the LA frontcourt. Had the Celtics not dominated the final three minutes in order to pull off this truly great win we would be zeroing in on the combined 46 points and 14 rebounds of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the 22-year-old 7-foot center who is gamely trying to help his team while playing with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The Celtics aren’t going to survive a frontcourt performance like that very often. It’s something that must be addressed, and it begins with Garnett, who was only able to play 24 minutes thanks to foul trouble.
They did survive, however, and for that the Bigs can start by thanking Mr. Rondo. He got a lot of publicity with that monstrous 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist triple-double against Cleveland, but this may have been the most impactful performance of his career. In what had to be considered an absolute “must’’ game, he was the maestro from start to finish, making plays that no other point guard alive can make.
Among his contributions once the Celtics found themselves behind, 90-87, with 5:21 remaining:
■A drive to make it 90-89.
■A pickup of a Gasol blocked shot and subsequent lefty layup to give the Celtics a nonrefundable 91-90 lead.
■A steal from Bryant.
■A great blocked shot on the estimable Fisher, who has made so many big ones in his illustrious career.
■And the killer, a 17-foot jumper to make it 95-90, Boston, with 1:51 remaining.
“He made the elbow shot,’’ said Rivers. “I’m thinking Mark Price is somewhere celebrating. He took a million shots this summer, and he didn’t hesitate, and that was my favorite shot for him.’’
Remember the basket that made it 93-90 in Orlando Game 2? Same shot. This is a new and improved Rajon Rondo.
Could this team have won a major playoff road game two years ago with Pierce (two layups, not one jump shot) and Garnett contributing so little offensively? You know the answer to that.
This is different team, with new dynamics. And last night it wasn’t about one man, even one as magisterial as Rajon Rondo. It was about the Boston Celtics, who are now tied at 1-1 coming back home.