BOSTON -- To Doug Collins, Boston's Big Three is already a memory.
"I don't look at them as the Big Three. I look at them as the Championship Four," the Philadelphia coach said. "Because if you're going to leave Rondo out, you're making a huge mistake."
Rajon Rondo helped his aging teammates keep their season going Saturday night, finishing with 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in Game 7 against the 76ers to lead Boston to an 85-75 victory and into an Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Miami Heat.
The Celtics will open the third round of the NBA playoffs in Miami on Monday night.
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"I've already packed," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We'll be ready. It's going to be a tough turnaround, but we're not an excuse team. We'll be ready on Monday."
Bouncing back from his worst game of the playoffs -- and snapping out of a 32-minute slump in which he had just two assists and five points -- Rondo scored nine straight Boston points after Paul Pierce fouled out to help the Celtics turn a three-point edge into a double-digit lead.
Rondo had 11 points in the fourth quarter, including his first 3-pointer in five games, made all four of his free throws down the stretch and grabbed his 10th rebound in the final minute -- chucking it over his head and into the frontcourt to help the Celtics dribble down the clock.
"He really came through," Sixers guard Jrue Holiday said. "He put the team on his back."
"Ray is the ultimate gunslinger," Rivers said. "That's what makes great players great. I was a basketball player someday, and I would have never taken that shot."
Pierce had 15 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 4:16 left.
That's when Rondo took over.
The point guard, who had nine points and a playoff-low six assists in the Game 6 loss in Philadelphia, scored on a baseline drive and followed it up with a long 2-pointer (originally scored a 3) with 2:47 left. Then he made a 3-pointer with a little more than 2 minutes left to make it a 10-pont game and, after Brand scored on a tip-in, Rondo went to the line as the crowd chanted "M-V-P! M-V-P!" and hit a pair of free throws to leave Boston with an 80-70 lead with 1:44 left.
Miami beat Boston in five games in the conference semifinals last year. In 2010, the Celtics eliminated the Heat in the first round and then knocked James and the Cavaliers out in the second -- his final game with Cleveland before defecting to Miami.
"Last year is in the past," Rondo said. "This year we're a totally different team. We feel we can beat Miami. We got to this point; there's no doubt in my mind we can. We've got to go down there and take care of business."
Philadelphia had one last chance with 100 seconds to play after Holiday made a 3-pointer to cut it to seven points. Pierce was left with nothing to do but cheerlead, waving his arms to encourage the crowd as Garnett went to the line with just under a minute left.
He made one of two, but Holiday lost the ball on the way to the basket and Rondo made a pair of free throws with 54 seconds left. Allen made a pair as the crowd chanted "Beat the Heat!"
Jodie Meeks' 3-pointer rimmed out, the ball bounced to the floor and Rondo got his hands on it to complete the triple-double.
Pierce picked up two fouls seven seconds apart with about 8 minutes to play, then his fifth with 5:16 left. Rivers left him in, and Pierce picked up No. 6 a minute later -- a charging call against Thaddeus Young out by the free-throw line.
|Rajon Rondo scores 18 points, hands out 10 assists and grabs 10 rebounds to pace the Celtics in Game 7. (AP)|
|Boston (4-3) «||20||21||14||30||85|
|PHI:A. Iguodala 18 Pts
PHI:T. Young 10 Reb
PHI:J. Holiday 9 Ast
|BOS:K. Garnett 18 Pts
BOS:K. Garnett 13 Reb
BOS:R. Rondo 10 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|A. Iguodala, SG||44||5-11||5-8||4||3||2||18|
|J. Holiday, PG||41||5-17||3-3||3||9||0||15|
|E. Brand, PF||34||6-11||3-4||6||0||6||15|
|E. Turner, SG||31||3-8||0-0||8||0||3||6|
|S. Hawes, C||18||2-8||0-0||5||1||2||4|
|L. Williams, SG||26||2-9||3-3||3||1||2||7|
|T. Young, SF||24||3-8||0-1||10||1||3||6|
|L. Allen, C||17||1-4||0-1||6||0||2||2|
|J. Meeks, SG||5||1-4||0-0||0||0||3||2|
|T. Battie, PF||Did Not Play|
|X. Silas, SG||Did Not Play|
|N. Vucevic, C||Did Not Play|
|S. Young, SF||Did Not Play|
|C. Brackins, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|R. Rondo, PG||43||6-13||5-5||10||10||3||18|
|B. Bass, PF||41||6-10||4-4||2||4||4||16|
|R. Allen, SG||38||3-11||3-3||4||0||1||11|
|K. Garnett, PF||38||7-17||4-6||13||0||2||18|
|P. Pierce, SF||37||6-14||3-3||9||3||6||15|
|M. Pietrus, SG||21||2-6||0-0||5||0||1||4|
|R. Hollins, C||10||0-0||0-0||1||0||2||0|
|K. Dooling, PG||7||1-2||1-1||0||0||1||3|
|G. Stiemsma, C||5||0-0||0-0||0||0||2||0|
|S. Pavlovic, SG||Did Not Play|
|M. Daniels, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Williams, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Johnson, PF||Did Not Play|
|E. Moore, SG||Did Not Play|
|A. Bradley, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|