BOSTON — When the ultimate list of injuries Rajon Rondo played through is compiled, the nine stitches he received in the middle of Wednesday’s game might not crack the top five. There’s definitely no chance of it ever topping playing through a dislocated elbow or a torn ACL.
Still, the bandaged point guard returning to the court with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, after receiving a blow to the face while cutting through the lane a quarter earlier, was remarkable in just how unremarkable it was. Nobody really thought the bloodied forehead would end his night.
Nobody who knew better, anyway.
“That’s what kind of player he is,” Avery Bradley said. “He’s tough, and he wants to win, so I knew he would come back without skipping a beat. He gave us a chance to win at the end.”
A chance, but a chance that came up short. Not even Rondo’s return or a scorching-hot shooting display by Jared Sullinger could rescue the Boston Celtics from a 99-90 defeat to the Toronto Raptors. Rondo got stitched up, answered a few baseline questions to ensure he didn’t have a concussion, and came back to finish off a superlative nine-point, 15-assist performance. But it wasn’t enough — not for a win, not for Rondo.
“We still lost,” Rondo said. “We’ve got to find some way to get stops in the last couple minutes of the game. We gave up a couple threes, and that was pretty much it.”
While Rondo got points for toughness, Kyle Lowry made the winning plays for Toronto (40-31). Whenever the Celtics (23-48) got close, pulling within five points four times down the stretch, Lowry kept them at bay. None of Lowry’s shots were bigger than his 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining to double Boston’s deficit, which had been narrowed to three on a goaltended layup by Chris Johnson.
That was all that concerned Rondo afterward. No matter how much more respect Rondo earned by checking back into a largely meaningless game at the end of a largely meaningless season, all he was interested in was the fact that the game added another “L” to the total in the loss column.
“I just want to win,” Rondo said. “I hate losing. That’s all it is.”
With Rondo off to the trainer’s room, Sullinger took it upon himself to carry the offensive load. It wasn’t an easy task, either, seeing as Rondo accounted for the Celtics’ first 18 points of the game, via basket or assist. He was sort of incredible before he went down.
Sullinger did OK, though. He ripped off 19 points in the fourth quarter, going 3-for-3 beyond the arc and 6-for-8 from the foul line, to yank the Celtics back into the game. Fellow Ohioan Chris Johnson supplied six points and innumerable hustle plays, but Sullinger really made the Raptors quake. He enjoyed better touch on the ball, thanks to removing the protective tape he’s worn as a result of dislocating his right index finger against the Oklahoma City Thunder in January.
“Obviously, it’s feeling a lot better,” said Sullinger, who finished with 26 points and eight rebounds. “Those couple days we had off that we didn’t really practice really helped me get the mobility in the finger and also helped it heal. It’s constantly getting hit, and (Wednesday) I played without the tape and felt comfortable out there.”
The Celtics travel Thursday, which should give Sullinger an extra day to rest the finger. Then he will try to carry his hot hand into Friday’s game in Toronto — only next time, maybe not wait until the last 12 minutes to fire away.