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Dan Shaughnessy

Bend but no break in Rondo

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 8, 2011

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It looked bad. Joe Theismann bad.

You’ve seen the video of Lawrence Taylor breaking Theismann’s leg. The gruesome play ended Theismann’s career in 1985. Footage of the bone-cracking sack was used to demonstrate the importance of the left tackle position at the beginning of “The Blind Side.’’

This image of Theismann flashed through the mind when we saw Rajon Rondo’s left elbow bend in a most unnatural fashion as he was pulled to the deck by Dwyane Wade with 7:02 left in the third quarter of the rau cous 97-81 Celtic Game 3 victory last night over the hated Heat.

Broken arm? Hyperextended elbow? How bad was it?

“I was trying to make a play on the ball and D-Wade and me got tangled up,’’ said Rondo. “I tried to break my fall . . . I knew right away something was wrong. I was having trouble breathing. Kevin [Garnett] came over and helped me, just telling me to breathe.’’

Rondo disappeared and we feared the worst. But then, with a minute left in the third, he was back on the bench. Then he was back in the game, left arm dangling. Then he flashed on a broken play and dunked off a fast break to give the Celtics an 81-63 lead with 8:32 left in the game.

“Shorty’s a real tough dude,’’ said Garnett. “I seen his face and I knew he was really beat up . . . when he came back to the huddle, all of us looked at each other and said, ‘What’s he doing here?’ He showed a lot of heart, a lot of grit. And we followed that lead.’’

Game 4 is tomorrow night at the Garden, and the Celtics hope they can get more big-game play from their one-armed bandit.

“If you see me Monday, don’t ask me how I feel,’’ said Rondo. “I’m gonna play.’’

“It’s a major concern,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “You can play a lot with adrenaline. But honestly, moving forward, it’s going to be interesting.’’

Rivers was among those who thought the worst when Rondo went down.

“I heard it was dislocated, that he was out, basically for good,’’ said Rivers. “Thirty seconds later I saw him in the huddle. Our doctor, Brian McKeon, told him to go out and see what you can do. It was good to see him on the floor.

“I’ve never seen the Theismann video and I haven’t seen this and I don’t want to see this. If I had seen it, it would have been tough for me to put him back in the game. It really did surprise me. We’ve got a bunch of guys like that. They just play. They find a way and that’s what he did.’’

Rondo is not the first Celtics superstar to attempt to play with one arm. It happened to captain John Havlicek back in 1973 when the 68-win Celtics played the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals.

Hondo’s shoulder was separated when he got sandwiched between Dave DeBusschere and Senator Bill Bradley in Game 3. He sat out Game 4, then scored 18 in a 98-97 Game 5 win and 9 in a Game 6 road win as the Celtics extended the series to seven games. In Game 7, he had nothing left and the Celtics were beaten by 16 by the Knicks at home.

Rondo finished with 11 assists and 6 points (only three made shots) in 35 minutes.

He played the entire fourth quarter, looking way better than the one-armed man in “The Fugutive.’’

“My adrenaline was high and I fed off the crowd,’’ said Rondo. “There wasn’t much I could do offensively, but I thought I could try to change the game defensively. Use your mouth, use my legs. I couldn’t reach as much. I just wanted to play.’’

“I’m sure it gave them a lift,’’ said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “They’ve proven they can play through injuries and adversity.’’

It might not have been Curt Schilling with the bloody sock, but it was every bit as good as Larry Bird coming back after a face plant on the parquet, or Paul Pierce vaulting out of a wheelchair in the first game of the Finals.

It goes down as the night the one-armed man beat the Heat.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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