Rondo Returns from Gruesome Elbow Injury as C's Dismantle Heat in Game 3

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

By Peter F. Stringer
May 8, 2011

BOSTON – His status for Game 4 is unknown, but Rajon Rondo's status for Game 3 is etched in stone: certifiable folk hero.

Like Larry Bird returning after he banged his head on the floor in 1991 against the Pacers in Game 5, Rondo made an improbable return to action after dislocating his left elbow in a scramble for a loose ball that left him writhing in pain on the floor. Rondo was carried back to the locker room for a relocation, then miraculously returned to finish the game, essentially one-handed and hopped up on his own adrenaline, as the Celtics finished off the Heat, 97-81.

"I was trying to make a play on the ball, Wade and I got tangled up. That's when it happened," Rondo said of the injury that happened with 7:02 to play in the third quarter and the Celtics leading the Heat 60-50 . "We have a day off. I'll get a lot of treatment and hopefully I'll be ready to play."

The series now stands at 2-1 Heat with Game 4 looming on Monday in Boston. While Kevin Garnett, who turned in 28 points and 18 rebounds, had perhaps his most dominant postseason performance of his Celtics career, Rondo unquestionably had his most gritty.

If you're squeamish, you probably don't want to scroll down this web page. There's a photo of the injury embedded below the fold. You'll get the idea if you didn't see it live already. And you'll be amazed he was able to return.

Immediately following the injury, Rondo was basically hyperventilating on the floor, and Kevin Garnett ran to him to calm him down as we was clutching his elbow.

Rondo's always been a bit Chumbawumba in the playoffs; he gets knocked down, but he gets up again. But it looked like this time, he might be finished when he crashed to the parquet with Wade.

The injury looked Joe Theismann-esque (check YouTube if you don't remember that leg injury and have a strong stomach) in terms of a limb bending the wrong way, and it was hard to imagine Rondo returning to action. Carried off the floor by team physician Dr. Brian McKeon and trainer Eddie Lacerte, the Celtics guard was wincing in pain as he walked to the locker room. It seemed unlikely he'd be back.

Whatever it took to get his elbow back in place, it sounds like Rondo doesn't quite remember. Team doctors don't typically address the media, so we'll never know exactly what happened between when Rondo left the floor in agony and returned to the parquet in the fourth quarter, but one can presume that once his arm was popped back into socket, he was ready to play on adrenaline alone.

"I can't say exactly what happened. It was still numb," Rondo said of the relocation process. "I tried to ice it, see how it felt. I just wanted to play."

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo hyperextends and dislocates his left elbow while trying to brace himself for a fall after a battle for the ball with Dwyane Wade in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Seminfinals.NBAE/Getty

Rivers said he didn't see the injury happen live, and he was initially told that Rondo was done for the night and possibly the series, but the diagnosis changed instantly when Rondo returned to the bench area.

"Thirty seconds later I saw Rondo walk by me in the huddle and looked like he was gonna play. Give Dr. McKeon credit. He told him, 'Go out there and see what you can do,' " Rivers said. "I still haven't seen it. I don't want to see it. Never seen the Theismann injury and I don't plan on seeing this one."

"It helped me that I didn't see it, because I probably wouldn't put him back in the game."

Rondo checked in to start the fourth quarter, and he basically played one-handed for the rest of the night, making passes, a steal, a dunk and a layup without the services of his left arm. He finished with six points and 11 assists.

"My adrenaline was too high. I fed off the crowd energy," Rondo said. "I felt my shot wasn't going, but I could try to change the game defensively."

While the Celtics already had a 72-61 lead when Rondo returned, his teammates appreciated Rondo's return to the floor.

"When he came in, it was typical Rondo. Shorty is a real tough young individual and I don't know what he's going to be like when he's 35 but right now he's playing through a lot," Garnett said. "He's showing a lot of heart and grit."

As you read this, Rondo is probably getting a lot of "ice and stim", or in layman's terms, treatment on the elbow. That will likely be the case until Monday's tip off if he has any chance of playing in Game 4.

Meanwhile, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra took the postgame press conference podium almost in awe of the Celtics' bounce-back victory. "That was a championship-caliber response. No other real way to put it. They played harder than us and more efficiently than us. They've earned that pedigree with the battles and wars of the last four years. We're trying to take down a champion."

Both the Heat – and injuries -- continue to chip away at the Celtics. While Shaquille O'Neal was finally able to return to the lineup, playing just over eight minutes and scoring two points, Delonte West was sporting an ice pack on his shoulder on the bench for most of the second half. Paul Pierce, whom Rivers said "set the tone" with his aggressive play and 12 of his 27 points in the first quarter, also took a painful spill after a layup.

But as the straw that stirs the Celtics' drink, Rondo and his health will be of great interest to Rivers as the Celtics aim to tie the series at 2-2 on Monday night.

"Yeah, it's a major concern. You can play a lot with adrenaline," Rivers said, referencing players who've played on broken feet in the heat of battle. "We'll have to see. It's gonna be interesting."

Given his track record, you can likely expect Rondo to try to play Monday. He doesn't have to prove his toughness, but this team does seem bent on proving that they're still a championship contender, whether Rondo can play or not.