OFFSEASON

Blakely: Rondo's big-game DNA shines through in Game 7

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Blakely: Rondo's big-game DNA shines through in Game 7

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.

OFFSEASON

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

The wheels of the Kevin Durant free agent train have been set in motion.

"Durant’s representatives at Roc Nation are working to solidify invitations" for meetings with a list of six teams, which includes the Boston Celtics, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. The other teams listed are the Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Spurs and Thunder. The Nuggets, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets, and Wizards could "could still find audiences with him," but they are considered outsiders.

Wojnarowski says the Thunder remain the frontrunners, but "the Warriors have Durant's attention."

If Durant chooses the Warriors, it could happen very quickly. Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes could sign an offer sheet for a contract on July 1, which would mean the Warriors would have only have three days to match the deal. They'd likely need a decision from Durant before then, or they'd risk losing one of their valuable pieces without being able to fill his role.

Durant plans on making his decision before July 9 anyway, according to Wojnarowski, because that's when he's leaving for a publicity tour in the Far East.

The fact the Celtics are even on Durant's primary list shouldn't come as a surprise considering his actions after his game in Boston against the Celtics earlier this year. They do have tough competition though. Both the Warriors and Heat have the cap space to absorb Durant's likely max contract worth about $26.4 million, and the Spurs can easily create the space if necessary.

The Clippers are interesting though, because they'd have to deal one of their stars (Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, or Blake Griffin) to free the cap space to sign Durant. If he does choose the Clippers, maybe Danny Ainge could help Doc Rivers swing a deal. How about something involving Blake Griffin and Jae Crowder?

But the Celtics have an edge. They're the only team listed that can sign two max contract free agents. If Durant wants to play with his buddy Al Horford, or anyone else for that matter, the Celtics can make it happen. How about a 2007 draft class reunion with Durant, Horford, and Jared Dudley? It's an odd trio, but Dudley has already expressed interest in joining the Celtics.

No matter what happens though, the Celtics are in the race. Fans might be disappointed after Thursday night, but we're just getting started, folks.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA