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In down time, Rondo is wising up

Rajon Rondo’s absence has allowed Avery Bradley (above) to get playing time, as he did last night, playing seven minutes. Rajon Rondo’s absence has allowed Avery Bradley (above) to get playing time, as he did last night, playing seven minutes. (Brent Smith/Reuters)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 29, 2010

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INDIANAPOLIS — Rajon Rondo has exhibited great patience the past two weeks, as he has been forced to shut it down with a sprained left ankle. He is getting closer to returning, however, and last night at Conseco Fieldhouse, he worked out without the ankle being taped.

His stubbornness is a big reason for his success, but it is also one of his greatest weaknesses. He continued to pound despite a sore hamstring and plantar fasciitis, and those injuries have calmed as the ankle heals. Rondo may play Friday against his nemesis, New Orleans guard Chris Paul, and the time off has allowed him time to reflect.

“We always talk after the game about the game that just happened,’’ coach Doc Rivers said before the Celtics pulled away from the Pacers in a 95-83 win. “And he has great input. He’s a point guard. He sees everything offensively and defensively. You always learn something [when you are out], but you miss playing basketball, for the most part.’’

When he incurred the plantar fasciitis — the same injury that has Sacramento point guard Tyreke Evans contemplating surgery — Rondo continued to play. And when he strained his left hamstring, he sat out only three games.

And even when Rondo sprained the ankle so badly that the ball of the joint touched the Madison Square Garden floor, he returned minutes later, dragging his left leg, unable to defend Raymond Felton.

He has proven his toughness to his teammates and coaches, but the past two weeks have allowed the 24-year-old guard to take a breather in the middle of a hectic season. After playing battered for most of last season, then participating in the USA Basketball camp and even traveling to Turkey before leaving the national team, Rondo was admittedly tired.

“The rest has allowed me to get closer to 100 percent than I was the last five or six games,’’ he said. “It’s been a good break for me. It’s definitely not something I wanted, but I have to deal with it.’’

The offense has suffered in Rondo’s absence, but that’s no scoop. Nate Robinson has done an admirable job filling in, but he’s not a starting point guard. He collected 18 assists in five games, which is one standout game for Rondo.

As they were on Christmas Day in Orlando, the Celtics were stagnant again offensively to begin last night’s game, and Robinson again started slowly before a couple of baskets in the second quarter brought Boston closer.

Robinson was banged up in the third quarter, butting heads with Indiana’s Mike Dunleavy and receiving six stitches. He will be relieved when he returns to the bench for a more comfortable role, but the Celtics need him for one more start — tonight against Detroit.

Realizing Rondo has major influence on the younger players, Rivers asked him to give Von Wafer a pep talk before Wafer was summoned with 1:04 left in the third quarter. Wafer sparkled, playing good defense and making a key layup.

“The one thing I love about Rondo when he’s sitting on the bench is he’s really involved in the game,’’ Rivers said. “He’s not sitting on the bench to look nice in a suit and tie. He’s really watching the game and trying to help guys on the bench. I went to Rondo and said, ‘We’re about to put Von Wafer in the game, go talk to him, make sure he’s ready.’ He came in ready.’’

Watching from the bench is painful in itself for the ultra-competitive Rondo. As much as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett represent the Celtics, Rondo is the player who makes the offense run to precision. His importance to the franchise is unquestioned.

So when he is out, something significant is missing. The Celtics are trying to win with a different identity. Pierce becomes the point forward, the ball doesn’t move as fluidly, and the scorers must create their own shots.

Rondo has had to become more commanding as he has grown older, making sure his teammates are in the right spots, taking a personal stake in how the offense runs.

“I have become more of a [expletive] now,’’ he said. “People say I am big-headed, but that comes with it.’’

In New York, minutes before he was injured, Rondo argued with the bench and Garnett over the Celtics’ porous 3-point defense. Rondo never has had an issue speaking his mind, but he seeks completion.

“I am trying to become a better listener, that’s my goal in being a better leader,’’ he said. “You can’t think you know it all. You’ve got to always stay humble and listen, you know, especially with this veteran team and your coaches, and each year I try to get better at that aspect.

“It’s all about having an open mind and not thinking you know it all. It’s about being a leader, and I don’t know it all.’’

Rivers has been adamant about not bringing back Rondo too early; he is taking the decision out of his hands. Rondo has to work on his stubbornness because he already has established respect. He doesn’t need to be so headstrong so often.

“With Doc, the relationship is like father-son,’’ he said. “That’s why he gets frustrated with me a lot. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that [relationship]. I may have been with five or six different teams by now if I didn’t accept that. It made me stronger and a better player. That’s a good thing. I don’t take that for granted.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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