As the winner of the Eastern Conference in two of the last four years, the veteran Boston Celtics entered the Eastern Conference Finals as an underdog to last year’s Eastern Conference champion, the Miami Heat. After an impressive performance in Game 1 and then handing Boston a demoralizing overtime loss in Game 2, the Miami Heat looked to take the proverbial torch from Boston as the team to reign supreme in the East for the next several years to come. The Celtics run as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference appeared over. The end of Boston’s “Big 3″ looked to be a reality.
Since then, Boston has rallied to win three straight games and will have Game 6 at home on Thursday night. The Celtics are one win away from returning to the NBA Finals for a third time in five years, but while Boston has a golden opportunity to wear the East crown yet again, a major changing of the guard has already taken place.
With a team as athletic and talented as Miami, the Heat could still take the series. The changing of the guard however, is an internal one with the Boston Celtics. It’s no secret that the trio that has become known as the “Big 3″ isn’t getting any younger. The Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are a combined 106 years old, but have still each managed to come up big in the conference finals. But the Big 3 are actually now 2,3, and 4 on the Celtics’ roster. As accomplished as the trio of Pierce, Allen and Garnett are, point guard Rajon Rondo has taken over as “the guy” on the team.
The Boston Celtics are now Rondo’s team. He may not be the scoring leader, the emotional leader or the vocal leader, but he is the floor general and he’s now without a doubt, Boston’s best player. It’s been Rondo who has been not just the best Celtics’ best player, but the best player in the series thus far. If the Celtics are to hoist an 18th championship banner, it will be won on Rondo’s shoulders.
Rajon Rondo was the starting point guard on the Boston team that won the title in 2008, but may have been the worst player in the starting lineup. Rondo was to the 2008 Celtics as Trent Dilfer was to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. He was never called on to win the game for his team, but it was vital that he didn’t lose it. That is no longer the case with Rondo; the Big 3 are still coming up big for Boston, but almost everything that the Celtics get on offense comes through Rondo.
That fact that Miami has had to put LeBron James on Rondo late in the game proves that the Heat know that they have no answer for Rondo. The Big 3 however, know that for their last run at a championship to become a reality, Rondo will be the answer. Through five games in the Eastern Conference Finals, no player has come up bigger than Rondo.
Rondo nearly willed Boston to victory in Game 2 with a career-high 44 points and all 12 overtime points for the Celtics before his rally fell short. Rondo got Boston out and running in Game 3 before finishing with 21 points and 10 assists. In Game 4, it was Rondo’s runner in overtime that put the Celtics ahead for good and in Game 5, it was a hustle play when the game mattered most that sparked a Boston comeback.
The Miami Heat opened the fourth quarter of Game 5 on an 18-7 run and with a 78-72 lead midway through the final period, things looked to be slipping for the Celtics. After Brandon Bass’ dunk was blocked by Dwyane Wade, a loose ball that could have led to a Miami fast break was tipped away from James by Rondo. The tip resulted in a perfect pass from Rondo to Mickael Pietrus who calmly knocked down an open three. From there on out, the Celtics stole momentum and eventually Game 5.
The over-the-hill team that was taken to seven games by the 8th-seeded Philadelphia 76ers is now the odds on favorite to be headed back to the NBA Finals in what most believe will be the last hurrah for the Big 3. If the Celtics are able to take home another title this year, the trio of Pierce, Allen and Garnett will go down with the great Celtics’ teams of the past. One thing however is for certain, the Celtics’ future lies with Rajon Rondo.
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