By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Doc Rivers was ready to move on.
Rajon Rondo had what team doctors said was a dislocated elbow, and would be lost for the fourth quarter - and maybe the rest of the series - against Miami.
And then Rondo did what Rondo seems to always do - come up with the unexpected.
About 30 seconds after being told Rondo was done, there was Rondo back in the huddle.
"And it looked like he was going to play," Rivers said.
The C's medical staff gave Rondo the clearance to return to action and see if he could play.
"And that's what he did," Rivers said.
Did he ever.
Rondo's 6-point, 11-assist night doesn't do justice to the impact he had on the Celtics defeating the Miami Heat, 97-81.
His ability to return to the floor after what appeared to be a gruesome, potentially season-ending injury, provided just the kind of emotional spark the Celtics needed in what was clearly a must-win game.
Boston now trails the best-of-seven series, 2-1. Game 4 will be at the Garden on Monday, with Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday.
Kevin Garnett went into 2004 MVP mode with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Paul Pierce, still nursing a left Achilles strain, had 27 points for the C's.
As well as KG and Pierce played, their strong performances were overpowered by Rondo's return to the floor when all indications were he would be out for some time.
The injury occurred in the third quarter when Rondo and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade got tangled up, eventually resulting in Rondo falling backwards.
He tried to brace his fall, but the momentum from his tussle with Wade resulted in his left elbow bending awkwardly.
After the play, Wade was booed every time he touched the ball.
"It's a physical game; the game of basketball is a physical game," said Wade, who had a sub-par night with 23 points on 8-for-19 shooting from the field. "I'm not a dirty player, it's physical. Everyone falls to the ground, everybody gets hurt, people get up."
Rondo didn't know the severity of the injury at first, but he knew it was something he would not be able to shake off with ease.
"I knew right away something was wrong when I went down," Rondo said. "But thank God for Kevin because I was having trouble breathing. I was worried about my elbow, but I was having trouble breathing. I kept hearing Garnett tell me to breathe."
It's a fitting image when you consider Saturday's win essentially breathed life into the C's fading chances of winning this series.
"That was a championship-caliber response," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "No other real way to put it. They came out and played extremely hard.They played harder than us and played more efficiently than us."
Especially the Celtics' Big Three of Pierce (21 points), Garnett (28 points, 18 rebounds) and Ray Allen (15 points).
The C's opened with an 18-7 run, with all 18 points scored by the Big Three.
But bench play was once again a challenge that the C's seemed to struggle with most of the game.
Even the return of Shaquille O'Neal did little to help a second unit that continues to squander leads built up by the starters.
Miami's Joel Anthony continues to be the best non-starter in this series with his hustle, rebounding and on Saturday, scoring. He finished with 12 point and 11 rebounds off the Heat bench.
Miami led by as many as six points in the second quarter primarily behind the multiple possessions they were able to get - and points - from Anthony.
But the Celtics are a desperate team, all too aware that Saturday's Game 3 matchup was a must-win game.
That's why players were giving their all, with some like Rondo giving more than anyone could expect or anticipate.
"Shorty Rondo is a really tough, young individual and I don't know what he's going to be like when he's 35, but right now he's playing through a lot," Garnett said. "He's showing a lot of heart and a lot of grit. We see it. That doesn't go unspoken or unseen. We see he's out there giving his full effort. We're following his lead."