BOSTON (CBS) – While it was hardly the marquee matchup that Rajon Rondo usually saves his best performances for, the Celtics’ playmaker looked to be back to his All-Star self in Boston’s 96-89 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday.
Boston had been 0-6 with Rondo in the lineup heading into Sunday, with the star point guard still knocking off some of the lingering rust from his year away from the court. But there was less and less rust against Orlando, and though you couldn’t physically see it falling off Rondo as he made his way down court and whipped passes towards his teammates, it was clear that he is making his way back to the Rondo that the Celtics have relied on the last eight seasons.
Rondo finished the game with 19 points off 9-for-11 shooting, 10 assists and six rebounds in 27 minutes. He got off to a fast start, scoring 13 first-half points off 6-for-7 shooting in 15 minutes, and was only slowed by some early foul trouble.
But that just left a well-rested Rondo to quarterback the second half, and he became his big-game self in the contest’s final minutes. As the Magic tried to claw back in the fourth quarter, Rondo dished out six of his 10 helpers to lead Boston to just their second win in the last two weeks.
After the game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was asked what it was like to see the “Rondo of old,” the version he had only seen from afar.
“I’ve seen pretty darn close,” said Stevens. “He’s just wearing the rust off a little bit, but yeah, he was good. I wasn’t surprised. Watching him play for so many years, I’ve probably caught all the really good games because that’s when you’re paying most attention in the playoffs and everything else, when you’re far away from this.”
Rondo himself said he felt pretty good, but he’s not about to celebrate after one game.
“I felt pretty good as far as moving-wise, able to get to the rim and finally put some balls in the hole,” Rondo said after the victory. “I feel more comfortable around the basket. A lot of my flip shots went in today. But, like I said, I take it one day at a time.”
His teammates certainly noticed the calm and cool Rondo directing traffic in crunch time. With Orlando within three points with four minutes left, he hit Jared Sullinger for an open three to push the lead to six. He then hit an open Brandon Bass twice in the game’s final 90 seconds to maintain that six points lead.
“I think he made plays for everybody tonight,” said Bass, who scored 19 points in the win. “Rondo is a coach on the floor and he’s leading us. It felt great.”
Celtics At 7: Rondo Eyeing Free Agency In 2015?
“He’s just moving the ball. He’s a playmaker, that’s what he does,” said Sullinger, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. “We’re kind of used to seeing the Rondo we always loved and adored. He’s constantly playing hard and getting back into shape. He looks good.”
“We made shots. We didn’t stop pushing the pace even though we had a lead,” said Rondo. “We finally finished a game strong. They made a run at it, but at the end of the day we got some stops and made the plays.”
Rondo stressed the importance of taking advantage of a light February schedule, with only 11 games and the All-Star break on he docket. Sunday’s win snapped a four-game losing streak for Boston.
“I thought it was important for us to start the month off (with a win),” said Rondo. “There will be a lot of days where we can rest, so we have to take advantage of the opportunities we have to prepare for teams and let our bodies heal and get some wins this month.”
The Celtics will next take the court Wednesday night in Philadelphia, where they’ll look for a little revenge following last Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss to the 76ers at the buzzer in Boston. Rondo sat out that game, the second leg of a back-to-back, so he’s extra eager for Wednesday’s tilt.
“We have a big game coming up in Philly, and we need to take care of business and get another win,” he said confidently on Sunday.
MORE SPORTS COVERAGE FROM CBS BOSTON