Celtics Notebook

Rondo unable to leg it out

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 6, 2010

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NEWARK — Doc Rivers said he didn’t know Rajon Rondo’s strained left hamstring would keep him out of yesterday’s 100-75 win over the Nets until about a half-hour before the game.

Nate Robinson got the word long before.

“I knew at shootaround,’’ Robinson said.

So when Rivers came to Robinson and told him he’d be starting for Rondo for the fourth time this season, it was hardly a shocker.

“I don’t stress it,’’ Rivers said. “I probably should stress it, I don’t. We don’t make a big deal of it. I just walked in, I didn’t even say, ‘You’re starting.’ I said, ‘Nate, you’re guarding . . . ’ So he assumed the other guy wasn’t playing. We just moved on. We don’t try to make a big deal of an injury or anybody’s absence. We just keep playing.’’

Robinson scored 21 points, including 8 in the game’s first 4 minutes 5 seconds, fitting in well with the other starters.

“Doc is always just like, ‘Stay aggressive. Be you,’ ’’ Robinson said.

Robinson is averaging 7.0 points per game, but 17.8 in his four games as starter. It’s a fringe benefit of playing with four future Hall of Famers.

“It’s easier with the starters for him, because he’s not the focal point at all,’’ Rivers said. “Where with the second unit, [opponents] want to stop Nate because they know his offense is big for our second unit. With the starters, he’s the afterthought. There was twice where they were trapping, and they left Nate. He doesn’t get that a lot with the second unit.’’

Robinson said, “It’s just that the first unit, they’re vets, they know how to play the game. Younger guys, we try not to make mistakes. At the same time, we’re still trying to play Celtics basketball. I just think as we continue to grow and watch the first group, I think the second unit will continue to get better gradually.’’

Rivers said he might consider sitting Rondo for a stretch of games if needed.

“We get a two-day break after this, and that’s one of the things that went into this [thinking]. We’re just going to try to get through it.’’

In no rush After missing nearly a month of games while resting his sore left knee, Jermaine O’Neal intends to continue individual workouts for the next week, and hopes to return to practice the week after that.

O’Neal, who hasn’t played since Nov. 8 in Dallas, was in Boston this week doing non-basketball workouts. He was fitted for a knee brace and has been adjusting to the feel of it. He’s missed 13 games, more than he did all last season, but the Celtics aren’t rushing him back.

“I just want him to get on the court with us, that’s more important,’’ Rivers said. “We’re just going to be patient.’’

Having rushed back from injuries in the past, O’Neal now has the luxury of being able to take his time.

“I think our staff has done a good job of saying, ‘There’s a bigger picture here. We want to play you March, April, May, June, and not really compromise everything, really compromise our season,’ ’’ O’Neal said.

O’Neal traveled here with the team, but doesn’t intend to come along this week when the Celtics visit Philadelphia and Charlotte.

“The toughest part for me on this particular one was the disconnect from the team,’’ O’Neal said. “As a player, if you’re not playing, then you don’t really feel as much a part as you want to feel. You can be there, you can watch, you can do anything you want to do, but not being on the court is what I miss the most. At the same time, it’s felt very good to me that I didn’t have to be rushed back out there.’’

Playing in pain Shaquille O’Neal is experiencing the same knee soreness that caused him to miss five games last month, but with the Celtics low on bodies (just 11 players active), he tried to play through it yesterday. He played 12 first-half minutes before taking a seat.

“[Shaq] told me before the game that he probably wouldn’t go, but we didn’t have enough players,’’ Rivers said. “He said, ‘If you just play me three or four minutes in a row, see how long I can go through halftime,’ and he was great. We needed that. We needed those minutes.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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