Celtics 93, Raptors 79

Doc gives Rondo all clear

Guard returns, Celtics triumph

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 3, 2011

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TORONTO — No matter how healthy he thought he was, Rajon Rondo knew he’d have to prove it to Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Rondo felt fine enough driving to TD Garden last Friday before the Hornets game, and tested his sprained left ankle out on the court beforehand. But trainer Ed Lacerte was reluctant to give him the green light, so Rivers wasn’t going to consider it, either.

This time it was different.

Rondo spent the morning in Toronto getting treatment on the ankle in his hotel room. And when he walked into Rivers’s office at Air Canada Centre, he had Lacerte on his side. To a degree, anyway.

“Eddie wanted me to play limited minutes,’’ Rondo said. “We got into it, started arguing a lot. Got to cussin’ and throwing things.’’

Rivers was skeptical. He wanted to know if Rondo could do the little things — pick-and-roll defense, lateral movement — but more importantly, he wanted to know Rondo’s ankle wouldn’t be the size of a grapefruit when the game was over.

When they walked out of the office, Rivers had made up his mind to throw Rondo into the starting lineup, promising to watch his minutes. That was the inch. Rondo took the mile.

He played 33 minutes — some parts sharp, some parts rusty — and even though his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (4 points, 8 assists, 5 turnovers) his presence in the Celtics’ 93-79 win over the Raptors showed how much of a game-changer he is.

With their catalyst back, the Celtics shot 54 percent, both Ray Allen (23 points) and Paul Pierce (a game-high 30) had huge nights, and the Celtics were able to bounce back after losing consecutive games for the first time this season.

Without the burden of being asked to do a little bit of everything, Pierce had no problem falling back into the role of professional scorer. He dropped 20 points in the first half, using an array of crafty moves to operate on the younger, more athletic Raptors. He got his numbers however he pleased, going 10 of 15 from the floor, 7 of 8 from the line, and drilling all three of his 3-pointers.

With 4:15 left in the fourth, Pierce put Amir Johnson on a poster with a one-handed flush. Moments later, Allen drilled a 3-pointer from in front of the Raptors bench that put the Celtics up, 85-75, and all but sealed the win.

“With Rondo out there it really lessens my responsibility as far as being the guy that has to run a lot of the offense and get guys involved,’’ Pierce said. “I can really concentrate on a lot of the things I do, slash to the basket, scoring, rebounding, and doing the things I’m good at. It was great having the Rondo effect out there.

“With him you really don’t have to work as hard. I think without him I have to create a lot of my offense, whereas he really sets things up easy for me because he we have a great chemistry together. He knows where I’m going to be and he knows where I like to get the ball.’’

After being criticized for taking an ill-advised 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s loss to the Hornets, Glen Davis responded by nearly posting the first triple-double of his career (15 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists). He started the night by missing six of his first seven shots, but Rondo stayed in his ear.

“No matter if I mess up a play, no matter if I fumble the ball, no matter if I take a bad shot, he’s always telling me, ‘Hey, keep your head. We need you in this game,’ ’’ Davis said. “And that means so much other than fussing and getting mad at me.’’

Rondo felt a different kind of relief. There’s a certain level of control a point guard gives up when he has to watch the game from the bench. When he was out, he got in the habit of suggesting plays to Rivers, and found out how hard it is to be a coach.

“Telling guys one thing, they do the exact opposite,’’ Rondo said, shaking his head and grinning.

“I think Rondo’s effect probably gave a calming effect to everybody, including the coaching staff,’’ Rivers said. “He’s another coach on the floor. He absolutely helps me offensively.’’

Rivers will make calls, and every so often Rondo will call audibles.

“Doc’s confident in me to where if I call a set and he calls a set, it can go either way,’’ Rondo said. “He’s not going to override my set with what he calls. He just kind of goes with the flow and we both give each other credit.’’

Even yesterday, when Rivers was inclined to keep Rondo off the floor. Rondo had a different idea. “I won,’’ Rondo said.

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