BOSTON - Rajon Rondo had missed eight consecutive games prior to Friday night's showdown with the New York Knicks at TD Garden.
Recovering from a right wrist injury, Rondo had been getting closer and closer to making a return with every game the Boston Celtics had played. Game after game, Rondo continued to be absent. Yet the Celtics did relatively well without their star point guard, winning six of the eight games he missed.
On Friday, the Celtics got their man back, and they got another win in the process. Rondo played 34 minutes in Boston's thrilling 91-89 victory over the rival Knicks and finished with seven points and seven assists.
"I thought he played well," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "I mean, he was rusty, obviously. And I thought he played a little gingerly with his hand at times. You know, we'll asses it (Saturday) and see how he feels and keep going. You don't miss that amount of games and then don't practice at all and then walk into an NBA game and play well. That's just hard to do."
It was clear that Rondo was not at his usual All-Star level, but it was good to have the Celtics' floor general back in action.
"It was just good to have Rondo on the floor," said Chris Wilcox, who played a pivotal role in Boston's second-half comeback and finished with six points and four rebounds coming off the bench. "We've been going through a stretch of games and we've been winning and things like that and then to bring him back only helps our team. Tonight he was kind of timid, didn't want to get his hand hurt and stuff like that, but he worked through it, he played hard and we came out with a W."
Rondo's first half of play was relatively uneventful. In 19 minutes, Rondo had one point and four dishes. The second half, though, was much better. And even though Rondo didn't look perfect, he played much better, totaling six points and three assists in the half.
"I thought he got a good flow. He got more aggressive," Rivers said of Rondo's second-half performance. "I think he just kind of threw caution to the wind and just started playing. I think when you're injured and you come back you've got to have a breakthrough moment like that, and hopefully he's had it."
Avery Bradley had received the majority of Rondo's minutes while he was on the shelf and served as Rondo's primary backup on Friday, usurping rookie E'Twaun Moore.
Bradley had three points and three rebounds in 16 minutes on the court Friday, and the second-year guard played key minutes down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
"The defense was great," Rivers said of both Rondo and Bradley. "Avery put amazing ball pressure on. And it was what we talked about - but then at the end of the game you needed a guy that could run the offense. So, they both did their jobs."
Granted that Rondo didn't suffer any unseen setbacks on Friday, he will continue to work his way back into the lineup on Sunday when the C's host the Memphis Grizzlies at noon.
For more Celtics and Knicks coverage, visit CelticsBlog and Posting And Toasting.