Rajon Rondo was draining 3-pointers from the baseline well before his team’s 97-90 overtime win against the New York Knicks at TD Garden Sunday.
The Celtics’ All-Star point guard looked as if he could play in the game as the shots fell and he moved well, but that nasty surgical scar on his right knee was a reminder that he is still months away from returning.
The closest Rondo can be to game action right now is dressing in warm-ups and taking jumpers before games beside his teammates, something he’s done during each game of the first-round playoff series that the Knicks lead, 3-1, entering Game 5 Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
Because of his torn right anterior cruciate ligament, Rondo cannot run. He can only watch the Celtics struggle mightily against the Knicks, especially because the team doesn’t have a ballhandling guard to replace him, instead having Avery Bradley play out of position.
Rondo is expected to return sometime early next season, but his rehabilitation is in the early stages after tearing the ACL Jan. 25 at Atlanta.
“I like to compete, I want to play but I’m fine where I’m at right now,” he said before the Game 4 win. “I’m just trying to support my teammates. That’s all I can do and that’s what I am going to do. I’ve been watching for four months now, it’s hard sitting on the sideline watching. Can’t do anything about it.”
No NBA team ever has come back from a 3-0 deficit and the Celtics may make some major offseason changes after a disappointing season.
When asked if the Celtics could compete with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and some roster additions along with a healthy Rondo, the guard said, “I would say so. It’s a long ways away, a lot of things can change this summer. I’m just focused on getting healthy, that’s about it.”
Rondo said it’s difficult to watch, especially during the postseason, where he has thrived, including scoring 44 points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals at Miami last season.
“That’s what it’s about, it’s about stepping up to the plate, when the lights come on that’s when you see what you’re made of,” he said. “I love the spotlight. I love the pressure situations, and what other situation is better than the playoffs?”
Rondo underwent surgery Feb. 13 and said it’s a 6-to-12-month window to return.
“Every ACL surgery they say you can start running in about 4-6 months [after surgery],” he said. “I think that’s when I’ll start running. That’s in the textbook of ACL rehab. I don’t know how long training camp is from my surgery. I get in between 6-12 months.”
Bulls guard Derrick Rose has yet to return to action approximately a year after tearing his ACL during last year’s playoffs.
“Everybody’s different,” Rondo said. “I can walk. I should be walking by now and I can walk. I can’t jump. I can’t run, but I’m walking, so for me that’s on schedule.”
Chris Wilcox has had little impact in this series, but he made one play Sunday that may have saved the Celtics’ season.
Coach Doc Rivers inserted Wilcox with 0.4 seconds left in regulation, when the score was tied at 84 and the Knicks had possession.
Wilcox, who played 43 seconds total and didn’t register in any other category in the box score, guarded Jason Kidd, who was set to throw the ball in. But as soon as Kidd tried to throw the pass, Wilcox blocked it out of bounds and the buzzer sounded.
Even though there wasn’t much time on the clock, the Knicks did have center Tyson Chandler open near the basket for a potential alley-oop slam, a pass Kidd easily could have delivered.
“Huge play. Huge,” Bradley said. “You always have to be ready. That shows you what kind of professional he is.”
TD Garden turned surreal shortly after the buzzer sounded. The bull gang rushed to take apart the parquet floor and prepare it for the Ottawa Senators-Bruins game set to start about three hours later.
The hallways were filled with hockey officials and basketball officials, the former trying to get ready for a game while the latter tried to pack up and leave in a hurry.
And then Knicks star Carmelo Anthony walked past the Senators locker room on his way to the podium to speak with reporters, and a few Senators players peeked outside to see if it really was him.
Fanning the flames
The arena had scores of empty seats at tip-off, and those who were in the stands were mostly Knicks fans, who showed up in force.
“Well yeah, it’s a close drive,” Pierce said. “I’m sure we’ll have some fans out in [Madison Square] Garden. I’ve seen a lot of Pierce, KG jerseys in that crowd also.”
There were several moments when Knicks fans and Celtics fans tried to outshout the other, especially when the former broke into M-V-P chants for Anthony.