Rondo ready to return, says he has nothing to prove

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Rondo ready to return, says he has nothing to prove

WALTHAM Boston's Game 2 win at Atlanta was certainly a different kind of night for Rajon Rondo who for a change was getting assists - and not handing them out - from his teammates.

The entire Celtics squad rallied in his absence for the Game 2 victory after Rondo's late-game implosion in Game 1 landed him a one-game suspension.

No matter how well or woeful anyone played in Game 2, a Celtics loss would have been pinned on Rondo being suspended whether it was warranted or not.

Fortunately for him and the C's, that's a non-issue now.

"We did this for him (Rondo) tonight," C's guard Keyon Dooling said following Boston's Game 2 win. "This is a tribute to Rondo; we've got his back."

The bigger concern is how will Rondo respond in Game 3 on Friday, a game in which the Celtics have to win in order to maintain their home court advantage.

Rondo understands the importance of Friday's game as the Celtics will look to win their first game in this series with Rondo in the lineup.

"I don't have anything to prove," Rondo said. "Why would I have anything to prove? I just want to win; that's it. This is a game I been playing my entire life. The world knows what I can do; like I said, the world knows what I can do; go out there and continue to do what I do best and that's be the best point guard in the NBA."

One of the keys to the C's Game 2 win was that Paul Pierce, playing the role of point-forward for most of the night with Rondo out, began the game with a very aggressive brand of basketball that led to him scoring Boston's first nine points.

C's coach Doc Rivers expects Rondo to come out attacking as well, although Rondo says he'll look to impact the game the way he does most nights - as a passer.

"I'm a pass-first point guard," said Rondo, who led the NBA in assists (11.7) this season. "It's not like I try to go out there and dominate the ball as far as shots. I try to keep my teammates happy, and get a win."

And remember, Rondo has missed 14 games this season - that includes Tuesday's win by the Celtics - during three separate stints.

Boston's record this season when he returns to the lineup?

3-0.

In those first games back to the floor, Rondo has indeed fallen right back in line with what he loves to do, and that's pass the ball to teammates. He's averaging 11 assists in those three games, but averaging just 2.3 points. Aside from assists and points, Rondo's return in those games displaying the kind of poise that a playmaker has to have this time of year.

While no one wants to see Rondo muffle his emotions too much, there is a fine line that he crosses occasionally.

There's no such thing as a good time for the Celtics to not have Rondo, but there are times - like Game 2 on Tuesday - that are definitely worst times than most.

In January, Rondo was suspended for two games after throwing the ball at an official in Detroit. And most recently, he was tossed out of Game 1 by official Marc Davis after Rondo bumped him, and the league came out with a ruling later on that suspended him for just one game.

"Try not to let my emotions get the best of me; but I am an emotional player," Rondo sad. "Try to keep my composure and my emotions to myself, but it was a heat of the battle moment. I wanted to win."

So do the rest of the Celtics, well aware that their chances of doing just that are much greater with Rondo on the floor than without him.

And the sooner Game 3 arrives, the sooner Rondo can put his Game 2 suspension.

"You learn from your mistakes. It's not the end of the world," Rondo said. "The great thing about it, the series is 1-1 and we're in boston."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

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Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

BOSTON – Brad Stevens has said on more than one occasion that the Boston Celtics’ record (38-22) is a bit better than their actual play.

While it may come across as exaggerated humility on Stevens’ part, the coach makes a very good point.

Despite Boston having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled mightily this season against the top-four teams in the East outside of themselves.

Boston will have a chance to rewrite at least one chapter in that narrative tonight when they host the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Against the top-four teams in the East (Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta), the Celtics are just 3-8 which falls short of how those teams have fared against one another this season.

The Cavs are 7-1 against the East’s top-4 clubs with the lone loss at Atlanta in November. Toronto (5-5) and Atlanta (4-4) have a .500 records against the top-4 while Washington (4-5) is just a game below-.500.

That’s why tonight’s game against Cleveland is so important to Boston.

It’s not just about beating the best team in the East.

For them, it’s about beating a good team, the kind of team that they have to get past in the postseason if they are to make the kind of deep playoff run that so many of the players have their sights set on.

Coming off of a 114-98 home loss to Atlanta, the Celtics know they have to play better – a lot better – to avoid losing a second game in a row, and four of their last five.

“They’re a good team,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “If we’re not locked in, they’ll beat us worse than the Hawks. So we have to come out, execute, play harder, feed off the crowd and do our job. We should be victorious.”

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re talking about a Cleveland team that’s truly built for the postseason.

That said, the Cavs are about as vulnerable to defeat now as they will be anytime this season.

All-Star forward Kevin Love is out until late March following “minor” surgery on his left knee.

“There’s definitely enough time to where I can get into a good rhythm,” Love told reporters earlier this week.

In addition to Love, the Cavs are also without J.R. Smith who underwent right thumb surgery in December that’s expected to keep him out until at least the middle of March.

Said Love, “I imagine between J.R. and myself, we’ll get out there and get our wind and be ready to go for (the playoffs) in April.”

Even without Love and Smith, Cleveland has plenty of firepower to remain the team to beat in the East.

It all starts with LeBron James who is averaging 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

And then there’s Kyrie Irving who continues to play at a level which puts him among the best guards in the NBA. He’s averaging a career-high 24.6 points while dishing out 6.0 assists to go with 3.3 rebounds.

Tristan Thompson. Iman Shumpert. New guys Derrick Williams and Deron Williams.

Go down the line and it’s clear that the Cavs have elite talent and depth to which beating them, regardless of who may be missing in action, will not be easy.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have to simply do what they do best … only better.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’ve got to make shots.”