BOSTON — Raise your hand if you were expecting Wednesday night’s Celtics season opener to end in a blowout.
Wait, let’s rephrase that.
Raise your hand if you were expecting Boston’s first game — against an opponent that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals last season — to end in a blowout win?
Didn’t think so.
The Celtics were (and are) expected to struggle this season, but with the services of Rajon Rondo at their disposal for the first time since April, they thoroughly dismantled the Brooklyn Nets in a 121-105 rout that was even more lopsided than the final score indicated.
Eight Celtics players, including all five starters, finished the game in double figures, as Boston built a 101-72 lead after three quarters before letting off the gas a bit in the fourth.
Highlighting those eight was Rondo, who approached triple-double territory (13 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds) in his first game action since April. Even with just three full practices under his belt, the point guard seemed to play with no restrictions — a small pad on his hand the only visible effect of the injury that cost him the entire preseason.
“I thought he played great,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “I don’t know what he ended up with — 13 and 12 in 29 minutes. I probably played him in the second half too long of stints for what I wanted to at one time, but I actually thought one of the best parts about the game for us was the fact that we went to the bench we just kept going. And the bench made such a great contribution, and Rondo just kind of fit in seamlessly.”
Stevens later added that Rondo “absolutely destroyed” his teammates in the final practice before opening night.
In the game, Rondo slid right back into his role as master facilitator, feeding Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller down low as the Nets worked to limit the Celtics’ 3-point attempts (only one-fourth of their shots came from beyond the arc.). He took just three shots himself in the first half — making one — but dialed up the offensive intensity midway through the third, when he scored seven straight Celtics points in a run capped off by a bank-shot three.
“It’s huge,” said Olynyk, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “You have a leader that’s commanding guys, telling them where to go, and just making the game easier for other people and that’s what it boils down to. If you can make the game easier for other people and make your teammates look good then everything works together.”
That stretch effectively killed a brief Brooklyn rally and served as the lasting highlight of a thoroughly impressive return.
“I felt like my quickness was back,” Rondo said. “I wasn’t as explosive (when) I was coming back from the ACL (injury) last season, but I felt pretty fast (Wednesday night). … I haven’t played ball in about seven months, so I’m just looking forward to continuing — the best thing about the NBA is that we have so many games.”
Rondo said he’s still not back to full strength and probably won’t be for another few weeks. Continuing the theme of the week, he pegged his health at 91 percent after the game.
On this night, that was more than enough.
Photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images