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Once again, Rondo rises to the occasion

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 4, 2010

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When Celtics coach Doc Rivers saw Rajon Rondo go down in a heap with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter of last night’s 104-92 victory over the Bulls, he naturally feared the worst. Rondo had been subjected to a hard foul by Carlos Boozer as he was cutting across the top of the key. When Rondo’s left knee buckled as he hit the floor, the TD Garden sellout crowd held its collective breath as he reached for his knee.

“I thought he was actually hurt pretty bad,’’ Rivers said. “I thought he tweaked his knee, so I was — when he bounced up — I was happy about it.’’

After getting some attention from trainer Ed Lacerte, Rondo gingerly walked toward the bench, rubbed his knee, and waved off any attempt by Rivers to send in a substitute.

“I didn’t feel like nothing was [torn] or snapped or anything,’’ said Rondo. “It just gave out. It was an awkward fall.’’

Rondo reassured everyone he was OK on Boston’s next possession when he hit a step-back fadeaway to give the Celtics a 74-57 lead with 4:39 left in the third.

“Any time your point guard hits the ground, it’s always a scary moment,’’ said Paul Pierce. “You know, he’s the key to what we’re doing. So I’m just glad he’s healthy, he was healthy enough to finish the game, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow. I know he’s battling a lot of injuries right now; we just hope he gets through it.’’

In a matchup of two of the league’s most talented guards, Rondo seemed to get the better of Derrick Rose, scoring 12 points while dishing out 19 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds in 35 minutes. Rose led the Bulls with 20 points, but only had eight assists.

“I love to compete, I try to bring it every night,’’ said Rondo, who raised his league-leading assist average to 14.1 per game. “I don’t try to disrespect the game or anybody I’m playing against. I also try to dominate the opposing point guard as well. I love competing against them every night.’’

And last night was no exception.

“You know, there are going to be some matchups where they’re going to have great games against each other or one’s going to play well, one won’t,’’ Rivers said of the budding Rondo-Rose rivalry. “But they’re both great guards; I mean, they’re spectacular guards. They’re both in the top five in our league, and we’re fortunate to have one of them.’’

The fact Rondo made it through the game in one piece was even more fortuitous.

“For a guy his size, the way he hits the ground, you know his physicality for a point guard is not like any point guards in the league,’’ said Pierce. “He hits the ground all the time, he’s constantly getting into the lane, getting hit.’’

When his night was done with 2:07 remaining, Rondo retreated to the bench, where Kevin Garnett was waiting with open arms.

“I think Rajon is actually getting better before our eyes,’’ Garnett said. “You see a guy put the work in, you see a guy dedicate himself to his art and his craft, you tend to want the best for him. Everything he’s gotten, he’s received, he’s worth that and more. It’s beautiful to see his progress and I’m not talking about his basketball. I’m talking socially. I think he’s matured these last couple of years, and with a group like we have it’s the only way to gain the respect of the elderly guys, the older guys.

“I think he’s playing with a better peace of mind. He knows that we respect him and he knows that this is his team.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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