Celtics lose Rondo, show incredible heart in beating Heat 100-98 in double overtime

It's not uncommon for a team to play inspired basketball in the wake of adversity. While talent rules the NBA, how much energy and emotion a team plays with in many cases can dictate who comes out on top. Today was such a day for the Celtics as they beat the Heat 100-98 in double overtime behind a vintage performance from Kevin Garnett (24 points, 11 rebounds) and a triple double from Paul Pierce (17/13/10). It was the game of the NBA season, encompassing everything great about sports in one three hour block of time.

Heading into this afternoon's game at the Garden, things already looked bleak for the 20-23 Celtics. They had lost six straight games to fall 9.5 games behind the Heat in the East, and now Ray Allen was coming back to town as a member of a Miami team primed for yet another deep playoff run.

And then it got worse. Rajon Rondo was scratched pre-game with a 'hyperextended knee', and was sent to the hospital for an MRI. Ok, so no Rondo for a nationally televised game against the Heat, that's pretty awful, right?

And then it got worse. Like way worse. As I'm sure you all know, Rondo did not simply 'hyperextend' the knee - he tore his ACL and will be out the remainder of the season. Not sure how he walked around (and even warmed up before the game) on a torn ACL, but hey, it's Rondo. The man does absolutely nothing in the conventional fashion, why would he tear his ACL in some run of the mill way?

Before I get into the game itself, it's still worth noting that Allen did in fact return to the Garden today. He received a mixed reaction when the C's played a tribute video during the first commercial break, and then was booed thoroughly when he entered the game. He scored 21 points, but let's be honest - no one really cares at this point.

To the game itself

The first half saw the C's and Heat play to a 45 all tie, and 8 of the 9 Celtics who appeared in the game, scored. Nobody was in double digits for the Green, but they moved the ball well on offense and played hard on defense. Jared Sullinger embraced his starting role, scoring five first half points, and providing the team with a much needed burst of energy.

As the second half began, and the news of Rondo's injury was confirmed, the Celtics continued to play inspired basketball. They knew they weren't going to win a shootout, so instead turned the game into a slugfest. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett scored 11 of the team's 19 3rd quarter points, and despite a few late buckets by Lebron - the Celtics ended the quarter within striking distance, down 68-64.

If the 3rd quarter was a slugfest, the 4th was a flat out trench war. Points were difficult to come by, especially for Miami, as both teams dug in deep on defense. The one player who seemed to be able to score early in the final quarter was Jeff Green. Green scored 7 points in the first five minutes of the 4th, punctuated by a ridiculous thunder dunk over Chris Bosh that put the Celtics up 75-72 with 7:48 remaining. The teams seemed to be perpetually trading buckets for most of the quarter, but Boston had the ball and a four point lead with under a minute to go before a Dwyane Wade steal led to a Ray Allen corner three, cutting the lead to 1. Two Terry free throws put the Celtics back up 3, but Lebron played hero knocking down a three with 11 seconds remaining and sending us to overtime.

I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself, but hell, I'm not sure what to else to say at this point as the overtime once again saw the teams trading baskets. The Heat went up four, the Celtics came back to tie it up; the Celtics went up 2, the Heat again knotted the score. Like two boxers fighting in their 4th re-match for the title belt, Miami and Boston just know each other too well. One old weakness for the Celtics that again reared it's ugly head - allowing offensive rebounds. The Lebron three at the end of regulation came after an offensive board, and the Heat got two chances to win the game at the end of the overtime as well, but Wade's fadeaway clanged off the backboard, and we went to double overtime.

Led by the two guys who have played with Rondo longer than everyone else, the Celtics finally extinguished the Heat in the second overtime. Garnett and Pierce in many ways carried the Celtics down the stretch, despite impressive odds against them. Over the coming weeks, Danny Ainge has tough decisions to make in regards to Pierce and Garnett's future with the team, but for today that didn't matter. It was a game that summed up the new Big 3 era - exciting, imperfect, frustrating at times, and exhausting. But at the end of the day, there was a sense of pride that that was your team. Even if it won't be for much longer.

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