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.