By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Usually when players are out of action for a while, there's noticeable rust upon their first game back.
Delonte West wasn't perfect on Wednesday, but for a guy who had been sidelined for the past couple of weeks because of a sprained ankle, he didn't look any worse for wear in helping the Celtics defeat the Indiana Pacers, 92-80.
West had two points and three assists, which isn't exactly the kind of high-impact return that catches your eye.
But that's the beauty of West's game. Numbers mean little.
His impact on the game, however, is undeniable.
Following the win on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers didn't sound convinced that West had been idle the past couple of weeks while his ankle healed.
"He's been playing somewhere," Rivers said. "Because his rhythm was too good. He's been in a rec league, or something."
No, he's just hungry to get on the floor and make the most of a season that by anyone's estimation, hasn't quite gone according to plan.
When the Celtics signed West, they did it with the knowledge that he would begin the season serving a 10-game suspension for pleading guilty to weapons charges last summer.
But a broken wrist injury along with a sprained ankle have limited West to eight games -- no, make it nine following his return on Wednesday.
Although West acknowledged he felt a bit winded on Wednesday, he didn't look like a guy who had missed such a significant portion of the season.
"I have fresh legs still from the summertime," West said. "I've just been sitting around, waiting for my opportunity to get out there."
And when that opportunity came, West made the most of it.
His game offensively is still a work in progress, but he's ready to roll defensively.
While his on-the-ball defense is a strength, West showed that he can play defense above the rim as well.
About halfway through the fourth quarter, Indiana's Paul George drove into the lane for what appeared to be a lay-up or a dunk. Out of nowhere came West to block the shot.
It was one of several strong plays made defensively by West.
"Well, that's just him," Rivers said. "I mean, he's a tough dude."
And it is that toughness from West that the Celtics will count on the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.
"He's such a poised player," said Paul Pierce, referring to West. "Even though he has been out for so long, you can see how he kind of smoothes out the second unit. Especially with his passing, his defense and his hustle."
And while West's strong return may have surprised some, don't count Pierce among them.
"The first time he came back from the wrist injury, he seemed pretty sharp after missing a couple months," Pierce said. "He does a good job of being in the gym, staying in shape, doing the necessary things it takes to be ready when he steps out there."