When you think of clutch plays, you think big shots. When you think of a closer, you think of a guy taking over a game, making plays and coming up big.
You don't always think of a guy committing a foul, and then avoiding one. But that's how Rajon Rondo closed the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He made some big shots, finished with his eighth career playoff triple-double, and willed the Celtics back from a 13-point deficit, but it was his two finals plays that really decided this one.
With the Celtics up three, Paul Pierce was unable to hit a jumper to finish things off. The Sixers grabbed the board with a chance to tie as time ticked down. Instead of calling timeout, Doug Collins saw the opportunity for an unorganized transition move with a Sixer shooter finding an opening to tie the game.
Rondo, recognizing time and situation, fouled Jrue Holiday in the open floor with 3.4 seconds left, eliminating the chance for Philly to get off a 3. Holiday made both free throws, cutting the score to 92-91 with 3.4 seconds remaining.
For Rondo's next act, he played keepaway. The Sixers had a foul to give and needed to put Boston on the line. Even if the Celtics hit both free throws, the 76ers, with a timeout, was going to have a decent chance to attempt a game-tying 3. Instead, Doc Rivers drew up a brilliant play with Rondo catching the ball on the run to which he was able to run away from Evan Turner and drain the clock.
What you saw was one team, the Celtics, with their incredible experience and playoff wisdom, making the proper plays to finish things while the other team, the 76ers, folding under the bright lights. The Sixers are young and don't have many players that have been in this situation. Turner fell asleep on the final play letting Rondo get too much space. Rondo, on the other hand, was completely aware of his situation making a heady play on the fly.
The Sixers missed an opportunity to steal a game while the Celtics did what they do. They hung tough, made a run, let their defense get them back in it and then Rondo did Rondo things. Made big shots, found Kevin Garnett for a huge and-1, and then used his head. Sometimes closing isn't about the big shot. Sometimes, it's just about making the right play.