BOSTON — The big lead was slipping away, so Rajon Rondo went back in and did what he’d been doing all game.
He passed the ball to set up baskets – again and again and again.

Rondo handed out a career-high 18 assists and the Boston Celtics beat the Sacramento Kings 94-86 after squandering most of a 24-point lead Friday night.

“He affects the game in so many different ways,” Kevin Garnett said of Rondo. “You want your point guard setting the tone every night. You want your point guard leading us. I’m telling you, man, he’s just growing up in front of us. It’s great to watch.”

The Celtics led 57-33 late in the first half, but with the score 80-70, Rondo returned with 8:21 left and added three assists. The Kings cut it to 87-81 with 3:12 remaining on a 3-pointer by Beno Udrih. Then Boston scored the next five points and stayed in front by at least six after that.

Rondo moved into second place on the Celtics’ single-season assists list with 696. He passed Sherman Douglas’ total of 683 in 1993-94 and trails only Bob Cousy’s 715 in 1959-60. Rondo also had three steals to set a single-season club record of 170. He began the day tied with Rick Fox at 167. And he finished with just two turnovers.

“The team made shots. I just try and give them the ball,” Rondo said. “What I was proud about was the turnover ratio. I was just trying to keep taking care of the ball.”

Paul Pierce scored 22 points, Ray Allen added 20, and Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Celtics to their sixth win in seven games. Pierce also set a team record with 5,373 free throws made after hitting 10. He passed John Havlicek’s 5,369.

Rondo had six points and four rebounds after getting a triple-double Wednesday night in a 113-99 victory against Denver.

The win gave Boston its third straight Atlantic Division title, two days after clinching a playoff berth.

“I guess that’s good,” said Coach Doc Rivers, whose sights are on the NBA title. “When you have a team with goals so high, you don’t really focus on it.”

Carl Landry had 30 points and Udrih added 16 for the Kings.

“We battled back and that’s all you can ask playing against a team like that,” said Dominic McGuire, who started because guard Tyreke

Evans missed his fourth straight game following a concussion. “For a young team like this, this is what you’ve got to measure yourself against. So it was big for us.”

Boston rolled to a 32-17 lead after one quarter behind Pierce’s 11 points, Garnett’s seven rebounds and Rondo’s six assists. The Celtics led by 20 at halftime after Allen scored 12 points in the last six minutes.

The Kings absorbed their fifth loss in six games after coming off a season-low point total in a 93-79 loss Wednesday night to the New Jersey Nets. Landry had just 11 points in that game, the fewest in any of his 19 games since being traded from Houston.

“To lose to one of the worst teams in NBA history is tough,” he said. “We just wanted to come out and be aggressive tonight.”
The Celtics played without starting center Kendrick Perkins, sidelined for the first time with a sore left knee, but didn’t need him.