Last night, with the Celtics backs against the wall, point guard Rajon Rondo provided the performance of the year. After having a rough game Friday night, Rondo composed Act 2 of his masterpiece that he started earlier in the series in Game 2. This one was much bigger and better than the last as he scored 29 points, dished out 13 assists, and pulled down 18 mammoth boards, all game highs. I honestly don't remember the last time a point guard grabbed 18 rebounds in a game (excluding Rondo). 18 rebounds for a center is considered an impressive feat in today's NBA. Cleveland superstar and league MVP, LeBron James, called Rondo “the difference maker.” LeBron added , "He plays much bigger than what he looks.” A grammatically incorrect statement from the best of the best (I guess that's what you get skipping college), but a compliment Rondo will take none the less.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers described Rajon's performance as,“absolutely sensational.” He continued,“What he’s doing is absolutely unbelievable. The rebounding, the energy he’s playing with. But the stat that doesn’t show was his ball pressure." Cleveland was forced into many last second shots, which helped contribute to their lousy 40.3% shooting from the field, down almost 20% from Game 3. When asked what keyed his incredible effort after the game, Rondo replied, “I just wanted to continue to attack. That’s how we got the lead at first.” Playing all but 1:12 of the game, he was the best player on the hardwood at both ends of the court for nearly the entire game. Now that is saying something with at least five future Hall of Famers in the game (Pierce, KG, Ray, LeBron, and Shaq).
A performance of this magnitude had not occurred in over four decades. Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain are the only other players in NBA playoff history to match Rondo's stat line, scoring 29+ points, grabbing 18+ rebounds and recording 13+ assists in a playoff game. Although most fans are no longer surprised by Rajon's terrific performances after he recorded three triple-doubles in last year's postseason, this was without a doubt his greatest game to date and anyone who was lucky enough to witness it will not soon forget. It's amazing to think that just two seasons ago, Rondo was considered one of the weak links in the team, and now he's the motor that makes the Celtics go. “He’s a point guard now that runs our team and has complete control of our team,” Rivers said. “When we won it (in 2008), he was still learning how to be a point guard. He was still trying to figure out how to help a team win. Now we rely on him to win.” In the first four games this series, Rajon is averaging 21.8 points, 13 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game, all team highs.
The Boston Celtics have a decorated postseason history, 47 appearances and 17 championships. When people think of the Celts, they think of winning. They think of Red Auerbach's victory cigar, or KG's infamous, "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!" exclamation after defeating the Lakers in the 2008 Finals. Celtics lore is filled with monumental playoff performances from the likes of Larry Bird, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and more. Now, Rondo's game last night was undoubtedly one of the best, but where exactly does it stack up?
Here are my Top 10 Boston Celtics All-Time Playoff Performances:
Honorable Mention: Allen Drops 51 In Marathon of a Game 4/30/2009 (3OT) Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 6
After struggling mightily in the first five games of the series, Ray Allen, one of the best pure shooters of all-time, scored 51 points on the Chicago Bulls. He made 9 of his 18 three point attempts, tying a playoff record shared by Rex Chapman, Vince Carter, and himself when he was in Milwaukee. Unfortunately it was in a losing effort. His 51 points were the second most for a losing team in playoff history. MJ scored 63 on the Celts in the '86 playoffs, but the Bulls couldn't pull off the victory. With the Boston winning tradition, I just couldn't put Ray's game in my top ten.
10. Bird Steals it, DJ Seals it
5/26/87: Eastern Conference Finals Game 5
Without a doubt the most memorable moment in Celtics history. Anyone who follows basketball, even just casually knows this play. It is a constant on greatest play reels and will be for years to come. With Boston down one, Larry Legend stole Isiah Thomas's inbounds pass on the baseline with five seconds in the game, threw it to cutting teammate Dennis Johnson who laid it in, and the rest is history. My justification for it being this low, is that it was an incredible play by Bird, but not an amazing game.
9. Cowens Carries Celts Over Bucks 5/12/74: NBA Finals Game 7
Celtics forward Dave Cowens outscored the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, putting in 28 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Cowens shot 8 of 13 from the field in the first half. Late in the fourth quarter, Milwaukee pulled to within three points and the big red head picked up his fifth personal foul. Coach Tom Heinsohn took a risk and decided to keep Cowens in the game. Dave then rallied Boston on 8-0 and 11-0 runs to put the game out of reach and secure the Celtics first title in five years.
8. Bird Burns Rockets Twice 6/1/86 & 6/8/86 NBA Finals Games 3 & 6
I couldn't decide which game to pick for Bird, so I chose both. Larry had a great series all around, nearly averaging a triple-double for the series (24.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 9.5 APG). Bird also shot 31 of 33 form the foul line combined in the six games. Bird recorded a triple-double in Game 3 with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Unfortunately, Boston could not pull that one out. However, they did win Game 6, in which he racked up another triple-double. Bird earned his second Finals MVP Award, to go with his regular season MVP trophy.
7. Havlicek Steals the Ball
4/15/65: Eastern Conference Finals Game 7
Down one late in the game, the Philadelphia 76ers looked to inbound the ball for a final shot at the game and the series. However, Boston legend John Havlicek did not let that happen. Havlicek stole Hal Greer's pass to ice the game for the C's and send them to the NBA Finals. Johnny Most's call was one heard around the world, “ Greer is putting the ball in play. He gets it out deep and Havlicek steals it!! Over to Sam Jones...Havlicek stole the ball!! It's all over… It's all over!! " Similar to the Bird steal, I ranked this on the low end as it wasn't a complete game performance, just an exceptional play to win the game.
6. Larry Legend Beats L.A. 6/8/84 & 6/12/84 NBA Finals Games 5
Larry Bird put together his most impressive series in what were seven games for the ages. Celtics vs. Lakers games are always special, but this series really took them to another level. Bird came up especially big in the two most important victories. In Game 5, Larry shot 15 for 20, totalling 34 points, and then repeated his performance in Game 7 with 20 points and 12 boards in the deciding game of the series. Bird averaged 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds in the seven games, piecing together one of the greatest playoff series of all-time.
5. Rondo Dethrones King James 5/9/10 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4
Coming into the game, LeBron James had scored 30+ points in 10 of his last 14 games against the Celtics, but last night Rondo stole the show. Rajon displays his crafty dribbling, dazzling passes, impressive vertical, and general ability to score the ball. I won't repeat all the stats I posted at the start of the article, but the fact that fans were cheering, "M.V.P.! M.V.P.!" when Rajon was on the line at the end of the game WITH LeBron James, the current MVP of the league on the floor really speaks volumes about the performance he had. All hail King Rondo!
4. Paul Pierce Brings the Celtics Back to Victory 5/25/02: Eastern Conference Finals Game 3
With the Celtics trailing 74-53 after three quarters, Paul Pierce put together an awe inspiring performance, dropping 19 points in the final period. Paul struggled in the first 36 minutes, scoring only nine points, but came alive with the game on the line. After the final buzzer, Pierce jumped on the scorers table in celebration. After the game, Pierce was quoted, "At the start of the fourth quarter, we just wanted to fight and make a statement for the next game that we're going to be a team to be reckoned with. I think we did more than make a statement." The game is now remembered as the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history. If this were a Game 7, or NBA Finals game, it would be #1 no doubt.
3. Havlicek Sets Celtics Record With 54 Points
4/1/73: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1
John Havlicek scored a Celtics playoff record, with 54 points as the Celts rocked the Atlanta Hawks 134-109. Havlicek dominated in the open court, working the fast break game to perfection. Floaters, jumpers, and lay ups were all going down for Havlicek. At the time, his 54 points were the fourth highest single game point total in NBA playoff history. He also converted on 24 field goals, a playoff record that still stands today.
2. Pierce vs. LeBron
5/18/08 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7
In the deciding game of the series, Celtics captain Paul Pierce rose to the occasion and scored a whopping 41 points against LeBron James and the Cavs. His point total was the the second-highest ever of any Celtic player in a Game 7. Although James outscored Paul with 45 points, it just was not enough for the victory. Pierce described the battle as, "Two heavyweights going at it, throwing body blows." Many compare it to Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins' playoff scoring duel in May of '88. Some may say I put this too high, but it's my favorite game of all-time. I contemplated putting it at #1.
1. Cousy Breaks the Half Century Mark
3/21/53 (4OT) Division Semifinals Game 2
Cousy led the C's to their first playoff series victory, scoring 50 points against the Syracuse Nationals. The win gave Boston a two game sweep in the best of three series and at the time his 50 points were an NBA playoff record. The Houdini of the Hardwood played 66 minutes in the contest, and gave the Celts the go ahead bucket with just five seconds left in the game. He also shot 30 for 32 at the free throw line, with many of those coming late in the game. In fact, 27 of his points came after the end of regulation, scoring all but a handful of Boston's points in the four overtimes. His heroic performance was even more special as he played most of the 3:11 game with a leg injury.
Stephen Bailey designed Beantown Banter, writes the majority of the pieces for the site, and controls the social networking among other things. Bailey is currently a freshman at Syracuse University majoring in Sport Management. He is a diehard Celtics and Red Sox fan, but also actively follows the Bruins and Patriots. Additionally, he serves as a contributing writer at Celtics Life. Earlier in 2010, Bailey interned in the Sports Department of the New Haven Register, interviewed multiple athletes, including ex-Celtic Ryan Gomes, and worked as part of a team to get the section done every weeknight. He covers both Swimming & Diving and Women's Tennis for The Daily Orange, SU's school paper. In his free time, Bailey enjoys playing pickup basketball, beating his floormates in NBA 2K11, and sporcling for hours on end. Although he is unsure exactly what he wants to do for a career, it has always been his dream to cover the Celts and Sox.