BOSTON (AP) — Rajon Rondo had six points and 11 assists despite playing the fourth quarter with a dislocated left elbow, and the Boston Celtics beat the Miami Heat 97-81 on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Miami leads the best-of-seven series 2-1, with Game 4 on Monday night in Boston.
Kevin Garnett had 28 points and 18 rebounds, and Paul Pierce scored 27 for the defending East champions, who managed to avoid a 3-0 hole that no NBA team has ever overcome.
Dwyane Wade had 23 points and seven assists, and Joel Anthony continued to contribute off the bench, scoring 12 with 11 rebounds. LeBron James scored 15, as he and Wade combined to make just 14 of 35 shots from the floor.
Rondo crashed to the court after a tangle with Wade in the third quarter and had to be helped off the floor, with his left arm immobilized by the team doctor. But he returned for the start of the fourth and — despite playing with his left arm dangling at his side — provided the Celtics with the spark they had been missing in the first two games.
“We understand fully now how tough it is to take down a champion,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “All this fuel, the last three days, that was going on, I was cringing. Because you know this is a proud group, and you knew they would have a response.”
In the building where James’ Cleveland career came to an end, Boston provided its first real resistance in the series, jumping to a 16-7 lead in the opening minutes. After Miami came back in the second quarter to take the lead, the Celtics posted a dominating second half, with Rondo as their emotional leader.
The point guard returned to the Celtics’ bench at the end of the third quarter, and the crowd rose to its feet when a picture of him on the bench was shown on the scoreboard.
“The first report was ‘dislocated — out,’ basically for good,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Thirty seconds later, I was in the huddle and I saw Rondo walk by me, and it looked like he was going to play.”
Rondo returned for the start of the fourth and was obviously favoring his left arm, but that didn’t stop him from a right-handed dunk after a steal and breakaway with 8:39 left that gave Boston an 81-63 lead. Two minutes later, with his left arm dangling helplessly at his side, he drove in and laid it up over James.
“It’s definitely tight,” Rondo said on the postgame broadcast, at one point referring to his elbow as broken. “It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before. With our trainers, I’m sure I’ll be ready for the next game.”
Miami led 46-44 at the half, but the Celtics scored nine of the first 10 points, capped by Rondo’s first basket of the game, a driving layup with 3 minutes gone in the third that gave Boston a 53-47 lead. In all, the Celtics scored 16 of the first 20 points of the second half; James missed three of four free throws during the span, and the only other points came on a 3-pointer by Wade.
Shaquille O’Neal returned for Boston and was not much of a factor. He scored two points, with zero rebounds, in 8:29 for his first action of the postseason.
Notes — During a second-quarter timeout, the Celtics played a video honoring the American military. The biggest cheer was for the logo of Seal Team Six, which carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. ... Red Sox players Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Bard and Jacoby Ellsbury were at the game. So was Bruins forward Milan Lucic. ... Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett scored the Celtics’ first 23 points. Pierce led the way with 12, hitting three free throws after drawing a foul while attempting a 3-pointer then hitting from beyond-the-arc. ... Delonte West, who was playing with a bruised shoulder, scored 10 points in the first half.