The score was close, the game was late, and the stage belonged to Rajon Rondo.
In his first game in nearly a year after suffering a knee injury, the Celtics guard walked to the scorer’s table late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s contest against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics’ lead was slim, and a packed TD Garden crowd could sense that the All-Star point guard was coming in to close out the win.
But it wasn’t to be. Rondo missed a game-tying 3-pointer with one second left, and the Lakers, who finished the game on an 11-0 run, pulled out a 107-104 comeback win, just their second victory in their last 14 games.
The Celtics (14-27) have lost 13 of their last 15 games.
And Rondo, who hadn’t played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Jan. 25, 2013 against Atlanta, looked so-so, finishing with 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds.
Rondo played 19 minutes, the maximum total that coach Brad Stevens said Rondo would play.
Kelly Olynyk was the Celtics’ star, finishing with a career-high 25 points off the bench. He added a career-high 7 assists and 5 rebounds in 33 minutes. But the Celtics’ starters struggled, as Avery Bradley, Kris Humphries, and Jeff Green shot a combined 10 for 36.
Lakers guard Kendall Marshall had 19 points and 14 assists, and Pau Gasol added 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The Lakers (15-25) took a 105-104 lead with 1:09 left after they hit their third consecutive 3-pointer. They shot 12 of 20 from 3-point range.
Rondo looked rusty at the start, missing a short jumper before air-balling a baseline jumper in the first quarter. He checked out after five minutes and sat until the second quarter.
But when Rondo returned, he started to look like his old self. His first basket was a layup in the lane in which he fooled the defense with a behind-the-back-pass fake. Rondo scored 8 straight points during a 4:39 stretch in the quarter.