BOSTON The Boston Celtics know they can win games without Rajon Rondo.
But around here, winning games - regular-season ones, at that - isn't enough.
Beating up on the Washingtons and the Torontos of the NBA, that's one thing. However, to enter the discussion as being a team to worry about, the C's (12-10) understand all too well that they'll need Rondo - a healthy Rondo.
The two-time All-Star had missed eight straight games because of a right wrist injury, but returned to action on Friday as the Celtics rallied for a 91-89 win.
He tallied seven points, seven assists and five rebounds in a very Rondo-like 34-plus minutes.
Coach Doc Rivers was pleased with Rondo's play, but knows it'll only get better as his health improves.
"I thought he played gingerly with his hand at times," Rivers said. "We'll assess it Saturday and see how he feels and keep going."
Paul Pierce had another big game, leading all scorers with 30 points on Friday.
And while most acknowledge that this is still Pierce's team, there's no question that having Rondo back only makes them that much tougher to deal with.
"Rondo really takes us to another level when you add him into the mix," Pierce told reporters after Friday's victory. "I said to somebody earlier, we're a playoff team without Rondo but with Rondo, we become a contender."
Pierce added, "He's our floor general. He knows the plays. It's just a different play set when he's out there because he knows the entire playbook. So there's a set of plays we run when Rondo's not in, but when he's out there it kind of expands our playbook a little bit more. So we start running plays that we haven't ran probably in the eight, nine games, and that's really what opened up Ray for those 3-pointers, a couple plays we haven't ran in probably over nine, ten games."
And while there's no way to ignore the success the C's had while he was hurt - they won six of the eight games he didn't play - you won't find any of the players or coaches lobbying for Avery Bradley to remain as the team's starting point guard which is role he served when Rondo was hurt.
Bradley told CSNNE.com that having filled in for Rondo has given him a newfound respect and appreciation for the job Rondo has done for the C's.
"It's hard being a starting point guard in the NBA," he said. "A lot of people don't know that. It's hard. You going up against good players every single night, and they're going hard every single game."
While the wrist was good enough to play on, it was clear that Rondo wasn't too comfortable about testing it out as far as durability is concerned.
"Tonight, he was kind of timid a little bit; didn't want to get his hand hurt and stuff like that," said Chris Wilcox. "He worked through it. He played hard. And we came out with a 'W.' "