Rondo powers Celtics past Jazz for 15th straight winDec 16, 2008 - 5:17 AM BOSTON (Ticker) -- It didn't come easily, but the Boston Celtics pulled it out yet again.
The reigning champions extended their winning streak to 15 games Monday night as they outlasted the Utah Jazz, 100-91, in a physical and often messy contest.
Rajon Rondo collected 25 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to outduel Utah star Deron Williams - who is still hobbled by a sprained left ankle that has been bothering him all season - and nearly single-handedly put the Jazz away.
"He saw the advantage he had, he knew he was the quicker player than Williams," Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. "Any time Rondo gets in the lane, he's difficult to guard, especially when he's finding guys and if guys don't step up, he's good at finishing at the basket."
The third-year point guard dropped in a layup to give the Celtics a nine-point edge with just over five minutes to play. While Utah kept answering down the stretch, Rondo was always there for a retort of his own.
"I was trying to stay aggressive," Rondo said. "We were in the bonus and I was feeling good with my free throws, so I was trying to get us to the line with Paul and KG - they get to the line on their own. I figured if we get to the line early, it will be a tough night for them."
After Mehmet Okur's 18-footer cut the deficit to 98-84, Rondo found Ray Allen from 20 feet away to extend the lead. After Williams connected from the arc, Rondo exploded through the lane - taking advantage of Williams' foul trouble - for a driving layup to make it 91-85.
All in all, Rondo scored 13 of Boston's final 17 points. The Celtics escaped despite an uncharacteristically messy showing, as they committed 23 turnovers on the night. The Jazz did their part in that arena as well, turning the ball over 18 times.
"We haven't played (great) in long stretches," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "(But) when we've played poorly, we've been able to figure out a way of winning games. We have had great quarters, we've had great halves. It's a good sign in a lot of ways, in that way, because to me, we have not played to a stretch where as a coach you would say, 'We've hit our stride.'"
Boston survived a stellar performance from Utah forward Paul Millsap, who scored a career-high 32 points and added 10 rebounds for his 12th straight double-double as the Jazz dropped to 1-5 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents.
"He played his heart out," Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan said. "That's the way he's been playing, he just seems to be getting better and better. It's amazing what hard work will do for you."
Millsap continued to fill in admirably for injured All-Star Carlos Boozer, who missed his 14th consecutive game with a strained quadriceps tendon and a sore knee.
Utah made sure the defending champions would not be able to cruise to their 15th straight victory too easily, staging a 22-7 run in the second quarter to regain its first lead since the opening minutes of the contest. Millsap did the bulk of the damage, scoring 16 points in the quarter on 6-of-8 shooting as the Jazz erased a 13-point deficit to pull even at the half.
"It looked like we were scared to play against them to start the ballgame," Sloan said. "Looked like we wanted to play out on the perimeter and take jump shots. Finally we got the ball in a couple of times and playing around the basket a little more and had a bit more success."
However, the Celtics re-gained control after the break and were able to hold off every rally the Jazz brought at them.
After Ray Allen's 3-point bucket from the corner capped off a 7-0 run for the Celtics to open the third quarter, and they later built a nine-point advantage on Paul Pierce's jumper with just under six minutes on the clock.
"I feel like the effort was there but they just made better plays than us," Millsap said. "Overall, the big picture is to win games and however we do that is fine with me. If I have to score, if I don't have to score, whatever it takes to win games."
However, Utah again showed resiliency and was able to close out the quarter in strong fashion to reduce the lead to four points.
With the Celtics holding a three-point advantage with nine minutes remaining, little-used second-year guard Gabe Pruitt nailed a 3-point shot with nine minutes remaining to supply them with a six-point lead.
"Whenever my number is called, I just have to perform and do good things," Pruitt said.
Williams finished with 15 points and seven assists before fouling out late in the fourth.
"They're the world champs - they make plays, that's what they do," Williams said. "They've got a great core, they've got guys who know their role and provide a big spark."
Kevin Garnett added 19 points and 10 boards and Kendrick Perkins had 15 and 14 for the Celtics, who were without backup guard Eddie House due to a death in his family.
BOSTON 100 FINAL
Dec 15 10:02 PM
BOSTON 69 END, 3RD QTR
Dec 15 9:22 PM
BOSTON 43 HALFTIME
Dec 15 8:39 PM
BOSTON 28 END, 1ST QTR
Dec 15 8:09 PM
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