Winning Returns: Rondo Rejoins Celtics

BOSTON – What a win for the Boston Celtics.

No, we’re not talking about on the scoreboard, where the Celtics fell 107-104 to the Lakers Friday night. We’re talking about the big picture here, which now includes All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

The notion of Rondo leading the Celtics on the court this season had been a figment of the imagination over Boston’s first 40 games of the season. It became reality Friday night, when Rondo made his return to game action 354 days after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“I felt pretty good,” Rondo stated after his first game back. “When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn’t feel like I was limited to anything tonight.”

Rajon Rondo with his hands on his knees

Rajon Rondo tallied eight points and four assists in less than 20 minutes of action Friday night.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

The second quarter, coincidentally, happened to be his most electric stint of the night. Rondo’s rust wore off as the game wore on and he tallied all eight of his points in the second frame on 4-of-5 shooting. The third quarter is when Rondo turned back to his old self – the distributor. He did not attempt a single shot in the period while handing out three of his four assists.

Did Rondo rack up his 29th career triple-double Friday night? No, he didn’t, but he still looked like a pretty darn good player during his first action in nearly a year. The point guard finished the contest with eight points, two rebounds, four assists and two steals in less than 20 minutes of action.

Brad Stevens couldn't care less about the fact that this night wasn't smooth sailing for Rondo from start to finish. All that matters is that he finally got the opportunity to coach his franchise player. Now Stevens is playing the waiting game as to when Rondo will look like his old self, which the coach expects to happen sooner rather than later.

“He’s going to be able to get back into the flow of things quicker than most, because he’s not taking time to adjust mentally,” said Stevens. “He’s been studying the game like he’s been out there for the last 40 games instead of just sitting there and doing what a lot of hurt guys do – and that’s not pay as much attention.”

Rondo, meanwhile, admits that playing at a game pace with his teammates is much different than the practice sessions he’s had with them over the course of the past month.

“I’ve been practicing and playing with these guys for the entire season now, but the actual game was different,” Rondo said. “I’m still trying to find guys where they like to get their shots, rhythm. They’re still finding where they are going to get the ball from me. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

The most significant hurdle to finding a rhythm with his teammates may be Rondo’s minute restriction. Boston’s medical staff is currently limiting him to approximately 18-20 minutes per game. Rondo said that he and Stevens decided on Thursday that he should split those minutes evenly over the four quarters.

Many, including Stevens and Danny Ainge, wondered how Rondo would react to the minutes restriction during his first game back. After all, this is a guy who’s averaged more than 36 minutes of action over his last four seasons. Rondo seemed to overcome the sporadic minutes from a physical standpoint by hopping on the stationary bike before checking back into the game. The mental side of this process is what he says poses the greatest challenge.

“Yeah, hopefully this won’t be too long,” Rondo said of the minutes restriction. “It’s my first game in a while, so, at first I just kept looking at the clock, knowing I was coming in in seven minutes. So I just need to stop looking at the clock and just play.”

Rondo’s mind should be a little more at ease, for two reasons, when the Celtics take on the Magic Sunday evening in Orlando. First off, he already has a game under his belt and shook off a bunch of rust on Friday. Secondly, he won’t be surprised by a monumental announcement before tip-off.

The Celtics shocked Rondo and all of those in attendance at TD Garden by announcing him during pregame as the 15th captain in team history.

“That’s when I found out, is when [everyone else] found out,” Rondo said of the announcement. “It really didn’t hit me at first. I was trying to lock in.”

After the game, however, he had some time to reflect on the honor that the team had given him.

“I’m just definitely honored, following Paul Pierce, who was our last captain, and he held the seat for a long time,” Rondo said, referencing Pierce’s 10-year reign as the lone Celtics captain. “It’s definitely something I’m very proud of. I think I’ve earned it.”

Stevens, who spoke about a half hour before Rondo, explained just how Rondo had earned the right to be called Boston’s captain.

“I think it’s something you earn through your effort, through your leadership, through your involvement in the community, and all of those things,” Stevens said. “He’s earned his captaincy.”

Rondo’s leadership was great for Boston to have on its sideline for the first 40 games of the season. The value of that leadership skyrockets now that he has finally taken it onto the court.

You’re a winner every day of the week when you get someone like Rondo back in your lineup, regardless of what the scoreboard may say.