It took three quarters for someone on the Celtics to show up and help out Paul Pierce, but finally Rajon Rondo decided to be that player. Paul Pierce finished the game with 27 points, six rebounds, and six assists, but none of those stats are as important as the one charge that he took late in the game. Rajon Rondo ended with 10 points, four rebounds, seven assists, and two steals, one of which came at a key point late in the game. Eight of Rondo's points came in the fourth quarter, as the Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 113-110.
With Pierce holding the ball at the top of the key, Kevin Garnett came to set a pick on his defender. Pierce, dribbling to the right, drew both defenders leaving Garnett open- exactly the same play that won the game for the Celtics against the Knicks on Sunday. This time, however, Garnett found Rajon Rondo cutting to the basket. Rondo received the ball under the hoop and continued to dribble through the paint as the shot clock wound down. It was a Rajon Rondo baseline turn around fade away jumper as the shot clock expired to put the Celtics ahead by four with 9.6 seconds to play, and after exchanging numerous fouls, the Celtics escaped with a victory.
After tonight's performance, according to Doc Rivers, all Pierce has to do tomorrow is cook Thanksgiving dinner and he will have officially done it all.
"He's been MVP to me," said Rivers. "Not only just with his play, but all over. He's doing everything you ask him to do. He's guarding guys, he's rebounding, he's making shots, he's taking charges, I mean, I don't know what else."
Kevin Garnett is quick to point out that it was Pierce who carried this team to victory tonight.
"...I really think tonight's game was Paul Pierce's will on the game," Garnett said. "I thought he and Rondo actually made the bigger impacts. When you look at all the big shots that were made, it was Paul Pierce making the play for a teammate. I thought Rondo got in there, took over the game for about a nice little stretch where he gave us some momentum but tonight was all P. Pierce. He's the truth man. He took charges. When we needed a bucket, he got buckets."
Again though, the fact that it took Rondo until the fourth quarter to show any signs of life is still an issue. You can credit his performance to the fact that the Sixers were shying away from him too much, or that the Celtics used a smaller lineup filled with shooters.
"[Rondo] has a gear," Rivers said. We would like him in that gear a little bit more, obviously, but he picks and chooses and sometimes in the right way.
Pierce thinks that the jumper that Rondo hit late in the game can give him a real confidence boost.
"Usually shots like that does give a player confidence," Pierce said after the game. "I remember my first game winner that I made, back when I was first-second year in the league, I just felt like I could do it all the time in the game. It just gave me a lot of confidence in those situations, so hopefully it could do the same for Rondo."
"It was a big shot," said Rasheed Wallace, who had eight points on the night and shot 2-6 from beyond the arc. "Even though that wasn't the drawn up play, but still to have the confidence in your teammates knowing that they can hit shots. That's something that you need down the stretch. Because lets say this was a playoff game and it came to him hitting that shot. We're not sitting there ‘oh, is he going to make it?' no we got the confidence in him that he is going to make it."
The saying goes "live by the three, die by the three", and recently the Celtics have been doing a little bit of both. They almost died by it tonight, shooting 7-27 from behind the arc while playing poor perimeter defense on the 76ers, allowing them to go 13-20 from three.
The defense was poor tonight for the majority of the game, aside from a couple key plays in the fourth. The Celtics played the Sixers earlier in the season at Philadelphia allowing them to score only 74 points in a 105-74 blowout. Tonight was the total opposite of that defensive effort. Too often were players on the Sixers wide open taking shots, and making the Celtics pay by hitting them.
Kendrick Perkins once again let foul trouble end his night early. Perk was having success early on in the game, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds in only 22 minutes. He picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and only played one more second for the remainder of the game.
The last two games have been nail biters, but the important thing is that the Celtics are ending up on the winning end.
"I think this is a game that we needed," Wallace said. To come down to the wire, last possession or two and to come out to a victory, I see it as a big victory for us morally."