Ainge, Stevens Discuss Rondo's Progression

WALTHAM, Mass. – It took two and a half weeks, but Rajon Rondo is back on the proverbial bike.

Just don’t use that metaphor with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens actually went in the opposite direction when describing Rondo’s comeback from last February’s ACL surgery. The coach told reporters on Thursday that coming back from such an injury is “not like riding a bike” for an NBA player.

Rajon Rondo passes to Jared Sullinger

Rajon Rondo drew attention from two defenders and dished a pass to Jared Sullinger for a game-clinching shot Wednesday night.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

In a sense, he’s correct. Hop on a bike after 10 years off and you’re going to be riding along within minutes. Hop back into an NBA game with a new knee and a year off? Yeah. That’s going to take a while.

For Rondo, however, his comeback seems to be moving at an accelerated rate compared to those of other NBA players who have returned from ACL injuries. It took Iman Shumpert more than two months of games last season to look like himself after his return from a left ACL tear. Derrick Rose never rediscovered his customary play during his three weeks of games this season following his return from ACL surgery.

Rondo hasn’t even hit the three-week mark since his return but he’s already beginning to look like the four-time All-Star who we’ve come to know and love. He has dazzled in his last two games while leading the Celtics to consecutive wins over Orlando and Philadelphia.

“I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent yet,” Danny Ainge told 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday, “but you can see that in the last two games he’s coming back. He’s gaining.”

Stevens, who’s excited as anyone to have Rondo back in the lineup, seconds that notion. He watched Rondo take it to a different level Wednesday night in Philly.

“There were times [Wednesday night] that I thought, ‘Man that looked different than the last five or six games,’” Stevens said before Thursday’s practice. He later added, “He really played with a great burst.”

That burst allowed Rondo to nearly tally his first triple-double of the season against the 76ers. He finished the night with eight points, nine rebounds and 11 assists, the last of which resulted in a three-point play by Jared Sullinger that sealed the game.

Wednesday’s performance wasn’t the first time Rondo pushed for a triple-double this week. The point guard, who has 28 career triple-doubles, flirted with the fact the feat on Sunday as well. Rondo was the best player on the court Sunday afternoon as the Celtics downed Orlando at TD Garden. He scored a season-high 19 points in just 27 minutes of action thanks to a 9-of-11 shooting performance.

The Celtics would love for Rondo to shoot the ball that well every night, but what’s even more important is his passing. He dished out six of his 10 assists in the fourth quarter to propel the Celtics to their victory.

The impact that Rondo is making on this team is undeniable. The Celtics just look different with him out there. They’re playing differently, too, especially in crunch time.

Boston hasn’t played well in clutch moments this season, excluding one memorable play in Miami. As any Celtics fan would tell you, the team has struggled hold off opponents at the end of games.

Such struggles are due in large part to an inability to score. The Celtics have played 30 games this season in which the score was within five points with less than five minutes to go. They’ve shot just 35.9 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from 3-point range during those crunch-time minutes, according to NBA.com/stats.

To say their performance in crunch time is night and day with Rondo on the court would be an understatement. With Rondo running the offense, the C’s have been as clutch as can be during their last two games.

Both of those contests went down to the wire and featured clutch shot after clutch shot by the Celtics. The Rondo-led offense shot a blistering 80 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range, according to NBA.com/stats.

It really doesn’t get much better than that. The Celtics have been playing calmly and comfortably in the clutch during their last two games, and it’s all due to of the presence of Rondo.

“I thought he solidified us offensively in both games,” Stevens said.

“More than anything, it just gives you a kind of a piece of mind and an assuredness as an offense that the guy with the ball is going to make the right decision with the ball.”

The Celtics couldn’t have said that as recently as last week. They had Rondo back, but they didn’t really have him back.

Now Rondo is back on the bike and he’s pedaling his way to the border of Triple-Double Land on a nightly basis. Just like we’ve all come to expect.