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Despite disappointing ending, Rajon Rondo’s return a success

01.18.14 at 1:04 am ET

Through 47 minutes and 59 seconds there was nothing to complain about regarding the debut of Rajon Rondo.

But it took just a second for that outlook to change.

With Boston trailing by three points in the waning moments, Rondo hoisted a 3-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime at the buzzer. But his shot clanked off the rim, and Boston fell 107-104 at the Garden.

‘€”Just came up a little bit short, but I was glad he had the ball,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game.

Still, there were plenty of positive takeaways from Rondo’s first game since last January — starting with the fact that he changed the dynamic of the team before the opening tip. Stevens, unbeknownst to Rondo, bestowed captainship upon Rondo before the start of the game. Rondo is the 15th Celtic captain, following Pierce, who reigned from 2003-2013.

“€œI never told him — I mean, maybe it’€™s something I should have done,” Stevens said. ‘”But I think it’€™s something you earn through your effort, through your leadership, through your involvement in the community.”

Once the game started, Rondo scored eight points, dished out four assists and grabbed two steals, and his signature innovation and flare appeared prevalently in his 19 minutes on the court. But the sting of the perfect ending that failed to come to fruition left a palpable haze over the TD Garden crowd.

Rondo missed the last half of the 2012-13 season and the first 40 games of this season due to a torn ACL suffered in late January against the Hawks. Between that time, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett departed from Boston, and without Rondo this season the team struggled to a 14-27 record, which puts it four spots away from an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

Rondo received the nod at starting point guard but began the game unceremoniously. In his first five-minute shift, his only notable statistics were two missed shots, including an airball.

But he picked up the pace in the second quarter. All eight of Rondo’€™s baskets came on layups, and they were jammed into a roughly one minute and 30 second stretch of the second quarter. He scored his first two points of the season five minutes, 22 seconds into the quarter when he dashed into the lane, flashed his patented fake-behind-the-back pass and finished a layup over Lakers 7-footer Pau Gasol. Three more easy baskets followed shortly after.

“œI felt pretty good,” Rondo said. “€œWhen I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn’€™t feel like I was limited to anything tonight.”€

Rondo also showed bursts of his passing genius, like in the second quarter when he masterfully stared down Avery Bradley on the left wing in transition only to fling a pass under the basket to a wide open Jared Sullinger. Then, at the start of the third quarter, he squeezed a bounce pass into Kris Humphries in transition for an easy dunk. Those, the Celtics hope, were signs of what is to come, building blocks for the rest of the season.

“I thought he was great,”€ Stevens said, adding: “€œHe got that run in the second quarter and did a lot there, and I thought he made a lot of plays down the stretch.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Brad Stevens, Doc Rivers, Jared Sullinger
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