By Rich Levine
Now that the adrenalines worn off from Rajon Rondos legendary Saturday night, we can address one somewhat overlooked aspect of the Celtics victory.
It had very little to do with Rondos return.
Theres no question that when we look back on Game 3, whether or not the Celtics win this series, Rondos elbow will be the story. And that story will live on as one of the defining moments of his career.
From now on, it will be impossible to question Rondos willingness to sacrifice, or his commitment to winning. Over the next four-plus years, there are sure to be lackluster stretches like we saw late this season. But now those stretches will be taken with a greater grain of salt, and not as anything deeper or more sinister. Yeah, it will still be frustrating. Yeah, it will still piss you off. But after Saturday, it will be very difficult to ever question how badly Rondo wants to win, or the extent to which hes willing fight for it.
Ill stop there, because youve read this all before. More importantly, you saw it. Those images, and the memory of Rondo heroics will never disappear. Theyll be forever ingrained on the minds of Celtics Nation and, regardless of anything that may happen with him going forward, will grant Rondo a special (or even more special) spot in Celtics lore.
But lets be honest. While Rondos return may have been the story, it wasnt the reason the Celtics won Game 3.
They were already up 10 points when the elbow went wacky, and as soon as play resumed it was clear that seeing their teammate in that condition (under those circumstances) had given the Celtics all the motivation they needed to put the game away. The lead reached as high as 14 over those next seven minutes, and was still holding strong at 11 when Rondo returned to give them a boost. It just wasnt a boost that they necessarily needed.
By this point, Chris Bosh had already been rendered useless, Dwyane Wade was already struggling in his role as Public Enemy No. 1 (he was 3-for-9 after the incident), LeBron's focus was fading, KG had taken over, Paul was back on his game, and even Jeff Green had a pulse.
The Celtics had played well before the injury, but when Rondo went down we saw the switch flip for the first time in these playoffs. Thats when they officially took control. Oddly enough, thats when the Garden crowd knew that their team would take home victory. Sometimes you just know.
But heres the thing:
No one cared.
As rumors and reports rolled in from everywhere that Rondo had broken his forearm, and freeze frames of his elbow, bent like silly putty, popped up on iPhones around the Garden, there was no reason to care. Or at least, to invest any legitimate faith in Boston overcoming its 2-0 deficit.
The Celtics were playing some of their best basketball in months. They were manhandling the Heat. They were winning the game they had to win. Every one cheered, but they did so with a pit in their stomachs, knowing that any momentum built up in Game 3 would wear off as the next game got under way, and at that point, Rondo wouldnt be there. And at that point, win or lose, the Celtics were done.
The whole thing was pretty cruel. It took Rondo going down for the Celtics to once and for all turn the key and rev their engine. But now their driver was out sick. For good.
Or so we thought.
Instead, as Rondo unexpectedly returned, so did the hope.
Not that he'd save the day, but somehow save the season.
Whether or not he can remains to be seen. We don't know how that arm will hold up, and will have no idea until he takes the court.
But thanks to Game 3's heroics, at least that hope still exists.