Celtics top Sixers, 85-75, advance to Eastern Conference Finals

773692.jpg

Celtics top Sixers, 85-75, advance to Eastern Conference Finals

BOSTON In the final seconds, Rajon Rondo did what Rajon Rondo seems to always do in big games - deliver in ways you least expect.

Sometimes it's assists. Other times, it's rebounds.

On Saturday, it was a 3-point shot in the fourth quarter that would serve as one of several big plays made by Rondo in helping the C's advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a 85-75 Game 7 win over Philadelphia.

The C's will now face the Miami Heat, with Game 1 in Miami on Monday.

Rondo was as clutch as we've seen him in this series, finishing Game 7 with a triple-double of 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

His play was among the many strong performances by the Celtics, who move on to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in the Big Three era.

Boston also got big games from Kevin Garnett (18 points, 13 rebounds), Brandon Bass (16 points) and Paul Pierce (15 points, nine rebounds) before he fouled out with more than five minutes to play and the Celtics clinging to a three-point lead at the time. Although Ray Allen didn't shoot the ball that well, he was able to knock down a pair of 3-pointers in the second half that were like most Allen 3-pointers - quite timely. He had 11 points.

For the eighth-seeded Sixers, they were led by Andre Iguodala's 18 points along with 15 points and nine assists from Jrue Holiday.

Boston seemingly had a firm grip on the game until they came up on the short end of a 7-0 run near the end of the third quarter.

But the C's still managed to take a slim 55-52 lead into the fourth after a buzzer-beating jumper by Garnett to end the third.

The down-to-the-wire finish was so not how the game started for the Celtics, who seemed intent on delivering an early knockout punch akin to what they did in a 16-point Game Five win on the Garden floor.

With a loud, vibrant, early-arriving crowd, the Boston Celtics gave them plenty to cheer for as they opened the game with a 10-2 run before Sixers coach Doug Collins, looking to stop the bleeding, called a time-out with 8:14 to play in the first.

As they have done throughout this series, the Sixers chipped away at the Celtics deficit behind a 10-5 surge of their own to make it a 15-12 game before Doc Rivers called a time-out with 2:40 to play.

Philadelphia, well aware of how short-handed the Celtics are without Avery Bradley (season-ending left shoulder surgery on Friday), knew the C's would need Rondo to become a bigger factor in defending the Sixers guards.

So they put him in as many pick-and-roll situations as possible, with the goal clearly being to wear him down. Rondo got some rest in the first, but not the kind he would have preferred.

C's coach Doc Rivers took Rondo out shortly after he picked up his second personal foul of the quarter, resulting in him sitting the final 2:40 of the quarter. The Sixers were able to make the most of Rondo's absence, eventually take the lead briefly, 20-19, on a 3-point play by Lou Williams.

However, Garnett made the first of two free throws which would be the final points of the quarter which ended with the score tied at 20.

The second quarter was like so many games between these two teams - low on points, low on being aesthetically pleasing but high on intensity.

The teams were more than halfway through the quarter when a time-out was called with 5:17 to play, and the two had combined to score 16 points in the quarter at that point.

Fortunately for the C's, 10 of those 16 points belonged to them.

And coming out of the time-out, Bass added a couple more on with free throws that put the C's ahead 32-26.

Points continued to be hard to come by for both teams, but it wasn't necessarily because of great defense.

Both teams - but especially the Celtics - were failing to resist the temptation that SHE presents.

She goes by many names.

Around here, we call her the jump-shot.

It wasn't coincidental that a back-to-the-basket bucket from Kevin Garnett put the Celtics ahead by four points, but just as important, seemed to be just the spark they needed to make a strong push to end the second quarter and take a 41-33 lead into the half.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Wizards

WATCH: Celtics vs. Wizards

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics play the Wizards in Washington. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game Preview: Rivalry in the making?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

- Live Extra FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Celtics: All of the most recent news and notes

- Talk about the game via social media on CSN's Pulse, presented by Ford

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

BOSTON -- While it’s debatable whether the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are rivals, there’s no question there has been a heightened level of animosity towards one another when they play.

When these two met on Jan. 11, the Celtics came away with a 117-108 win.

But the game itself featured plenty of back-and-forth trash talk, finger-pointing, cries of dirty play and NBA fines.

IN FACT . . . Washington plans to bury Boston

“It’ll be a physical game,” said Jae Crowder who was hit with a five-figure fine for his role in a post-game incident involving Washington’s John Wall. “We have to answer the bell; we’ll be ready.”

Crowder knows he and his teammates must balance being the more physical team, with not losing their cool because if tonight’s game is anything like previous ones, there will be trash talk … lots of trash talk.

“They talk a little bit more than other teams,” said Crowder who added that was a factor in the incident him and Wall which cost them $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

Crowder said a flagrant-foul committed by Washington’s Bradley Beal against Marcus Smart was what really cranked the level of animosity that was already at a high level.

But Beal probably hasn’t fully put behind him an incident last season in which Smart broke his nose and put him in the league’s concussion protocol program on a Smart drive to the basket.

As far as the hard foul that Beal delivered to him earlier this month, Smart said, “you take exception to every hard foul.”

Smart added, “It’s the game of basketball. You play with your emotions and intensity and everything like that. It comes with the game.”

While Crowder understands the Celtics have to play a physical brand of basketball, he’s not looking to do anything that might result in him having to cut another $25,000 check which was the amount of his fine from the Jan. 11 game against the Wizards.

“I’m looking at it as another game we have to win,” Crowder said. “I’m not looking at it as a rivalry or anything like that. I’m not coming in talking; they might.”

For the Wizards, winners in four of their five games since losing to Boston, a major key to their success lies in the play of their backcourt.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the latest high-scoring backcourt tandem that the Celtics have to be worried about.

And making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics will have to try and make due without Avery Bradley who is still dealing with a right Achilles injury.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the 6-foot-2 Bradley was not going to be with the team in Washington and would most likely be out all this week.

That means Boston will lean heavily on Smart to not only help the offense run relatively smooth, but also provide some much-needed defense to help limit Wall and Beal who collectively rank among the higher-scoring starting backcourts in the NBA.

“We have to slow them down; by any means we have to slow them down,” Thomas said. “We know they go as far as those two take them. It’s going to be a tough game. They have a lot of momentum at home. It’ll be a tough game for us. But we’re ready for the opportunity.”

Wall and Beal are just the latest in a string of high-scoring backcourts that the Celtics have had to contend with recently.

In Saturday’s 127-123 overtime home loss to Portland, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to score 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting from the field.

“This stretch of backcourts is exceptionally difficult,” Stevens said. “They (Wall and Beal) both should be and certainly are in the discussion for the all-star team. It’s a real difficult challenge. Our guys are going to have to be really good on both ends of the floor.”