Celtics see the Rondo they need in win over Magic

Celtics see the Rondo they need in win over Magic
February 2, 2014, 5:45 pm
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BOSTON — The media waited nearly an hour after Boston's 96-89 win over Orlando for Rajon Rondo to emerge from the training room.

The Boston Celtics have been waiting more than a year for Rondo's emergence from a torn right ACL injury.

As much as Rondo will try and not make a big deal out of his play in Sunday's win, it was a big deal on so, so many levels for Boston.

The four-time All-Star has had better games statistically as well as their impact on that particular season, but few have as much importance both for him and for the Celtics than the way he played on Sunday.

It was the first time this season that the Celtics (16-33) came away victorious in this, Rondo's post-torn ACL era.

That in itself is a milestone worth recognizing.

But more than that, Rondo left an indelible imprint on Sunday's game in ways that went far and beyond his first double-double of the season of 19 points and 10 assists not to mention his six rebounds.

It was vintage Rondo, navigating the Celtics with deft passes, clutch shooting and a slew of intangible, hustle plays that propelled Boston to a much-needed win which snapped a four-game losing streak.

Making this victory even sweeter was that for the first time this season, Rondo delivered when the Celtics needed him most - the fourth quarter.

"Well, we've had a couple of times now, but I thought this was the most comfortable he's looked (down the stretch)," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "He did a lot of good things."

Orlando chopped Boston's lead to just a single point (77-76) in the fourth, only for Rondo to dribble into the lane and deliver a momentum-shifting, swooping hook shot - a shot that left the always-excitable Tommy Heinsohn quite giddy - that tripled the Celtics lead.

And on the ensuing Celtics possession, Rondo was at it again. Only this time he connected with Avery Bradley coming off a screen for a jumper that pushed Boston's lead to 81-76.

Orlando called a time-out and were able to eventually trim Boston's lead down to a two-point game after a lay-up by former Celtic Glen Davis.

But there was Rondo once again coming through, with a 15-foot jumper that gave Boston a two-possession lead that the Celtics were able to maintain for the rest of the game.

Not surprisingly, Rondo tried to downplay his performance afterwards.

"It's just one game," he said. "I made a lot of my shots. I'm taking it one game at a time."

Indeed, Rondo's success on Sunday afternoon cannot be counted on with any kind of consistency.

Rondo's scoring came on 9-for-11 shooting, the kind of performance that even the most elite scorers in the league don't have with any kind of consistency.

"They're going under every screen," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told Comcast SportsNet's Abby Chin. "He (Rondo) has to shoot when they do that. As long as he shoots it like this, it's really a helpful thing for us."

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn and his staff know all too well that Rondo is not considered a very good shooter.

Coming into Sunday's game, Rondo was shooting a career-worst 27.9 percent from the field, and even worse (23.1 percent) on 3s.

There was no need to unearth those numbers for Vaughn. Like most coaches in the NBA, he was well aware of Rondo's struggles shooting the ball both this season and truthfully, throughout his NBA career.

"This game, everyone uses analytics and so did we," Vaughn said. "And we are going to play the percentages a lot of times."

Former Celtic Glen Davis echoed similar sentiments. "He just came through for his team," said Davis. "Sometimes the nights are like that."

The Celtics will need more from Rondo if they are to somehow dig themselves out of this crater of a season in which they lost 15 of their 17 games in the month of January.

But this is a new month, a fresh start and for one day at least, Rondo looking like his old self instead of just looking old.

Rondo knows the Celtics' turnaround this season has to begin with him.

And it starts now.

"I thought it was very important for us to start the month off (with a win)," Rondo said. "We don't have a very difficult month as far as games wise. We only play 11 games. There will be a lot of days where we get to rest so we need to take advantage of the opportunity we have to prepare for teams, to let our body heal, and to get some wins this month."