Rondo feeds into it
Kevin Garnett caught four alley-oop passes, and Paul Pierce didn’t need a lot of words to explain why there were so many.
“We had Rondo back,’’ he said.
After sitting out three games with a strained left hamstring, Rajon Rondo returned and dished out 14 assists in the Celtics’ 110-101 win over the Raptors last night. He also had a season-high eight turnovers (five in the third quarter), explaining that number by saying, “I was rusty.’’
With two towers like Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal on the floor, the alley-oops come easy, Rondo said.
“Last year, Kevin was injured, we didn’t have Shaq. Now it’s great playing with some bigs that can go get it,’’ he said.
Garnett was happy to reap the benefits.
“It was good to see him back out there,’’ Garnett said. “We’ve been fighting this injury bug right now. So although I don’t think he was 100 percent, it was good to have him out there. He was definitely a momentum-changer. It gave everybody more confidence to see him out there.’’
Coach Doc Rivers was tentative about putting Rondo back in the starting lineup, knowing there are three days off before the Celtics go to Cleveland Tuesday. But Rondo looked good in shootaround and Rivers decided to give his All-Star floor general the start.
“It just seemed like natural flow,’’ Rivers said. “He came out, established a tone, got guys easy looks, and it’s almost like he never missed a beat. As far as the turnovers, we’re not worried about that, Rondo takes good care of the ball.’’
The Celtics’ backcourt was thin after Delonte West broke his right wrist Wednesday night against the Nets, but Rivers and Rondo both said there was no rush to have Rondo play last night. Rondo, of course, said it more sarcastically, deadpanning, “I felt all the pressure to come back and play.’’
He’ll continue to get treatment on the hamstring.
“It was getting better each day,’’ Rondo said. “I’ve been off for a week, getting treatment, and I’m still going to get it throughout the season. Whether Delonte went down or not, I was going to play. That was my due date.’’
Time to watch Rivers hasn’t been very clock-conscious this season, but after leaving Ray Allen on the floor for 43 minutes last night, the coach was shaking his head.
“A lot of minutes, which I didn’t like,’’ Rivers said.
Allen scored 17 points, handed out eight assists, and grabbed three rebounds. He entered the game averaging 37.7 minutes a night, 17th in the league. Rondo is third with 39.6, and he’s already felt the effects of hamstring and foot troubles.
Rivers said he was willing to play starters longer knowing there would be ample rest before their next game.
“Honestly, I knew something they didn’t know: that they were going to have two days off,’’ Rivers said. “So that’s why I wasn’t that concerned about minutes tonight. But Ray did a lot of other things; I thought his passing, his defense — he just played well. He played a great floor game.’’
Ailing, but not wailing West underwent several tests yesterday, including a CAT scan, and will likely require surgery that will keep him out indefinitely. There was no update on Jermaine O’Neal, who hasn’t played since Nov. 8, when swelling in his knee forced him to leave the loss to the Mavericks. Semih Erden is playing with a shoulder that Rivers acknowledged is waiting to pop out of the socket.
Even though the Celtics went down this road last season, Rivers said it doesn’t make them any more prepared to deal with the injury bug.
“Every year’s different,’’ Rivers said. “This is forced and it is what it is. What we do, and we’ve always done it here, is we don’t harp on it with the other players. You’ve got to keep moving forward and somebody else has to step up. I’ve said it a million times, we play everybody. We don’t just play the first seven guys.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.