BOSTON In the NBA, there are some who eventually develop into the kind of players that can come through down the stretch.
And then there's Rajon Rondo, a player who clearly possesses big-game DNA that allows him to find different ways to lead the Boston Celtics to victory when the lights are their brightest and the challenge is great.
"That guy has become the motor that drives this team," said Sixers coach Doug Collins.
It's hard to explain how Rondo, maybe more than any player in the NBA, can go from being relatively dormant for most of the night, only to transform into a dominant figure as he did on Saturday in leading the Celtics to an 85-75 Game 7 win and with it, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals where they'll face the Miami Heat with Game 1 set for Monday.
Rondo finished Saturday's series-clinching win with his ninth playoff triple-double, tallying 18 points to go with 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Of his 18 points, 11 came in the fourth quarter when the C's were in desperate need of an offensive punch that became even more daunting when Paul Pierce picked up his sixth personal foul - an offensive foul into Philadelphia's Thaddeus Young.
"Rondo down the stretch was huge," said C's coach Doc Rivers.
Especially after Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 to play.
It wasn't a coincidence that all of Rondo's 11 fourth-quarter points came after Pierce fouled out.
"You know he felt a sense of urgency, he smelled it, how close we were," Pierce said. "He was able to take over he game with his scoring, and it was just phenomenal to watch."
But Rondo's end-of-the-game explosion offensively was about more than trying to carry the team in Pierce's absence.
He is gradually getting a better feel for when he can take over and dominate game.
"My teammates needed me to step up," Rondo said. "It's not about me; it's a team effort. I just happened to score seven or eight points in a row but my teammates got us to that point."
As well as Rondo has proven himself as a passer, he has shown the ability to be an effective scorer when he makes it a priority.
"That's what makes him good," Rivers said. "Rondo wants to run the team, and he's a great quarterback. With Paul fouling out he had to take charge of the team, and that's good to see as well."
Seeing Rondo have a major impact on the game did not catch Philadelphia by surprise.
However, it is unusual to see him do it with jumpers and free throws - two areas he has been historically weak in throughout his career.
"You know you're thinking a miss," said Sixers guard Jrue Holiday when Rondo pulled up for a pair of jumpers. "But he did what he had to do and that's what good players do. Paul Pierce went out, and I know me personally, I'm thinking, 'let's go.' Rajon Rondo, the player he is, the point guard he is; he came through for his team. He put his team on his back."
And he's looking to do more of the same as the Celtics gear up for a daunting Eastern Conference finals duel with the Miami Heat.
"We feel we can beat Miami," Rondo said. "There's no doubt in my mind that we can. So we gotta go down there and take care of business."
Which is what you expect to hear from a player who has been at his best in big games, a trend he'd like to continue against the Heat.