|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo-less Celtics defeat Heat||01.27.13 at 4:08 pm ET|
Ray Allen returned to Boston, and it wasn’t even the biggest story of Sunday’s battle between the Eastern Conference rival Celtics and Heat. While news of Rajon Rondo‘s ACL tear trickled out around halftime, the C’s submitted their most impressive performance of the season in a 100-98 double-overtime victory.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Starting Sully: Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger‘s production was finally too much for coach Doc Rivers to ignore. The C’s are 9.3 points better when he’s on the floor than when he sits, the best of any player on the team, so his replacement of Brandon Bass in the starting lineup was practically inevitable. His rebounding, ability to score on the inside and willingness to hit the floor for loose balls helped the Celtics remain tied going into halftime.
Brazilian Blur: Likewise, Leandro Barbosa gave the Celtics an energetic lift off the bench, scoring seven points in 10 first-half minutes. Entering the game, Barbosa’s 15.8 points per 36 minutes ranked third on the team behind only Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. While Jason Terry continues to struggle, there’s no reason Rivers shouldn’t give his minutes to Barbosa to kickstart a woeful Celtics offense.
“Pitbulls”: Apparently, that’s the nickname for the starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee, who started in place of the injured Rondo. They lived up to the moniker, holding their Heat counterparts Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers to subpar nights. Even on a tough shooting night for both, their defense made a definite impact on the game. That’s what the Celtics will have to rely upon going forward.
Heart of a champion: With Rondo out for the season, Celtics veterans Paul Pierce (17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) and Kevin Garnett (24 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) each came up huge in the final minutes of regulation and both overtimes, punctuating a valiant effort from a team without its brightest star. Pierce’s sweet spin move past Allen in the lane and Garnett’s 18-foot jumper gave the Celtics an 85-81 lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Pierce also fed Garnett for a pair of buckets to tie the game 93-93 with 1:14 left in the first overtime. And Pierce buried a jumper over LeBron James to give the C’s a 99-98 lead with 30.4 seconds left in double OT.
Of course, Jeff Green‘s dunk over Chris Bosh didn’t hurt, either.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rondo’h: In the span of a few hours, the news on Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo‘s right knee went from hyperextended late against the Hawks to completely torn. Rondo received treatment twice prior to Sunday’s game in hopes of playing against the Heat, but he was taken to New England Baptist Hospital for a “precautionary” MRI. By halftime, the diagnosis from Dr. Brian McKeon came in: torn right ACL, done for the season. And the C’s hopes of making the playoffs for a sixth straight season may have gone with it.
Bosh-trich: As was the case in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals this past spring, the Celtics struggled matching up with Chris Bosh. His 10 first-quarter points on six shots staked the Heat to a 26-22 lead after the first quarter and had the Celtics playing catch-up for much of the game. His ability to score from the outside also draws Kevin Garnett out from under the basket, leaving little help on a driving LeBron.
Ray’s return: Especially on a day the Celtics lost Rondo for the season, Ray Allen‘s presence — and the C’s tribute to their former star — was a sad reminder of championship days gone by. On the court, he scored 21 points on 17 shots off the bench while Terry continues to struggle for the Celtics.
LeBron being LeBron: While Allen missed his potential game-tying 3-pointer in the waning moments of regulation, James (34 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists) came up with the rebound in the final 10 seconds, the Celtics failed to foul and the NBA’s reigning MVP rained a triple to send the game into overtime, 87-87.
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