Celtics captain Paul Pierce laughed Friday night when asked if he could explain the sudden rise in alley-oops in his team's offense.
"Yeah," he shot back. "We had Rondo back."
You could feel it in the air — with point guard Rajon Rondo back in the starting lineup for the Celtics on Friday night as they took on the visiting Toronto Raptors, it was a whole new ballgame. The running, gunning, absolutely thrilling C's were back.
Rondo had missed a week of action with a strained hamstring, sitting out three games since the injury first popped up last Friday in a loss to Oklahoma City. He returned a week later, back at the TD Garden, and he was ready to work.
"It felt great," Rondo said after the game. "I was just excited to play basketball."
Rondo set the tone from the very beginning, getting the ball inside early and often to Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal. His crisp passes gave the Celtics a lot of scoring opportunities early, and it showed on the scoreboard. The C's led 7-2. Then 19-5. When Rondo took his first breather of the night, giving way to Nate Robinson with 2:31 left in the first quarter, he'd already staked Boston to a 28-16 lead. At that point, he had eight assists.
"It was good for the team, because obviously, it carried on throughout the game," Rondo said. "We had 33 assists in the game. We've been passing the ball great lately, and we'll just continue to try to get some easy looks for our teammates, and get Kevin going early. He's been aggressive, and when he's aggressive, we usually win."
Rondo finished the game with 14 of the Celtics' 33 assists, right around his season average of 14.3 per contest. It was another vintage Rondo night.
He also had eight of the team's 11 turnovers.
"I was rusty," Rondo admitted. "Guys made shots in the first quarter, and I got some easy looks for my teammates, but other than that, the timing was a little off for me."
Rondo wasn't even sure he would play Friday night — the team's statement Friday morning was that he'd be a "game-time decision," and as game time approached, there were still doubts. C's coach Doc Rivers addressed the media 45 minutes before tipoff and admitted he still wasn't sure Rondo could go.
But the C's young point guard said after Friday's game that he felt confident throughout the week that he'd be back — and that the unexpected injury to Delonte West had nothing to do with his decision.
"It was getting better each day," Rondo said of his hamstring. "I had been off for a week, so I had a lot of treatment, and I'll still continue to do so throughout the season. Whether Delonte went down or not, I just figured I was going to play Friday. That was my due date."
In one day Rondo went from questionable, to active, to dropping dimes just like old times. The C's are happy to have him back.
"It just seemed like natural flow," Pierce said. "He came out, established a tone, got guys easy looks, and it’s almost like he never missed a beat."