It wasn’t easy — nothing in this series was — but the Celtics  advanced to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night, after dispatching of the scrappy 76ers, 85-75. Rajon Rondo  scored eight straight points after Paul Pierce  fouled out with just under four minutes left extending a 3-point lead back to 10. Rondo finished the night with a triple-double with 18 points, 10 assists, and grabbed 10 rebounds. Andre Iguodala  led the 76ers with 18 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Last Stand: Pierce struggled in the first half — shooting just 2-of-6 — but he remained engaged, and found his rhythm in the third quarter. The Celtics were able to maintain a healthy lead largely because of Pierce’s six third quarter points.
Kevin Garnett  came on late, hitting a jumper at the buzzer to end the third quarter, and scoring four of Boston’s first seven points to open the fourth quarter, extending a three-point lead to seven, and obtain some much needed breathing room. Through three quarters Ray Allen  was ineffective (again) because of his ankle, shooting a woeful 1-of-9 from the field, but came up big with two gigantic 3-pointers in the final frame.
Pierce fouled out with just under four minutes to play, and the Sixers crawled back within three to scare the Garden faithful one last time. It was Rondo‘s turn, though, as he knocked down back-to-back jumpers and then a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to 10, ending the threat.
Role playing: Prior to tip-off, Doc Rivers  said ancillary players typically step up in critical moments of Game 7’s — think P.J. Brown against the Cavs in the 2007-08 playoffs. After the C’s absorbed Philly’s run at the tail end of the first quarter, Mickael Pietrus  and Keyon Dooling  provided a jolt of energy and enlivened the stunned Garden crowd.
Pietrus had an impressive dunk in the lane and put back on a missed 3-pointer to give the Celtics a spark. Dooling provided great defense and had a nifty old-fashioned 3-point play on a fast break to seize momentum for Boston.
Winning Ugly: In 20 years, no one will be telling their grand-kids about Game 7. The 76ers and Celtics combined to shoot 26-of-79 in the first half (33 percent), including 1-of-15 from 3-point territory, but all things considered, the C’s were just good enough.
Seven of the Sixers 20 first quarter points came from the free throw line, which made up for Philly shooting a mere 28.6% and led to a tie game. In the second quarter, both teams continued to struggle, but the C’s had four steals leading to easy baskets (the C’s had 13 fast break points in the first half). Meanwhile, 76ers were less aggressive in getting to the foul line.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Holiday Season: Rajon Rondo will welcome the challenge of guarding Mario Chalmers  of the Heat. Chalmers is a spot-up shooter, whereas Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague  — who gave Rondo fits in the first two rounds of the playoffs — are more keen to attacking the basket. Holiday’s impressive night series continued in Game 7, scoring 15 points to go along with nine assists .
15 Rounds: The C’s could have gained control in this series in Game 4 when they relinquished an 18-point lead in their second half collapse. Instead, these two teams have traded body blows with one another these last three games. Game 7, of course, was no different. The Celtics fed off the crowd and grabbed a 10-2 lead early, yet the score was tied at 20 going into the second quarter. The C’s squandered multiple opportunities to finally put the 76ers away early in the second half while their lead teetered between eight and ten points in the third quarter. The dog fight continued well into the fourth quarter, however, and the Celtics expended a great deal of energy closing out the series.
In a way, Game 7 was a microcosm of the entire series — a struggle in every sense of the word. Now, the well-rested Heat wait in the wings for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night.