Just as Rajon Rondo entered TD Garden at 5 p.m. on the dot Friday, a coach, standing not too far from the parquet court, predicted what everyone would witness would be an interesting blend of “poetry and chaos.”
Those are fine words to describe Rondo’s game. The Celtics’ star point guard is an eccentric artist on the court, capable both mentally and athletically of what so many others are not. The hardwood is the canvas on which he can create magic.
Yet there are moments when his flair for the dramatic, his want to make something from nothing, can lead to just that: nothing. It has always been a delicate balance for him, but also the part that makes him a rare and brilliant wonder.
And within a few hours, Rondo, playing in his first game in nearly a year after suffering a knee injury, provided more glimpses of poetry than chaos. But mostly, he just looked rusty from not playing a game since Jan. 25, 2013, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Rondo finished with 8 points, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds in 19:25, about the maximum floor time that the Celtics said they’d allow. He played nearly five minutes per quarter, and the last segment came near the end, when he tried to help his team finish off their bitter rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.
But it wasn’t to be. Rondo missed a game-tying 3-pointer with one second left, and the Lakers, who ended the game on an 11-0 run, pulled out a 107-104 comeback win, just their second victory in their last 14 games.
The Lakers (15-25) hit 12 of 20 3-pointers, the game-deciding edge, and they were carried by Pau Gasol’s 24 points and 13 rebounds, along with 19 points and 14 assists from Kendall Marshall, who made 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
The Celtics (14-27) have lost 13 of their last 15 games.
After it all, Rondo said that overall he felt pretty good.
“When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was to be expected,” Rondo said. “Other than that, I didn’t feel like I was limited to anything tonight. I missed my first two shots and got on the post and got comfortable and went from there.”
Rondo received a roaring ovation when his name was announced during the starting lineups; he was also introduced as the Celtics’ captain, the 15th in team history and first since Paul Pierce, who held that title from 2003-13.
But he looked rusty at the start, missing a short jumper before air-balling a baseline jumper in the first quarter. He checked out after five minutes and sat until the second quarter.
But when Rondo returned, he started to look like his old self. His first basket was a layup in the lane on which he fooled the defense with a behind-the-back-pass fake. He later scored on a fast-break layup, then added two more quick buckets, giving him 8 straight points during a 4:39 stretch in the quarter.
He recorded his first assist in the third quarter, finding Bradley for a jumper in transition. Later, Rondo threw one of his signature passes, threading the needle through traffic to a cutting Kris Humphries for an easy fast-break layup.
“I thought he was great,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Just came up a little bit short, but I was glad he had the ball.”
Rondo pushed the tempo when he was in, and his teammates noticed a difference, too.
“It felt great,” said Gerald Wallace, who had 14 points off the bench. “That’s my style of play — the way he likes to play, get up and down the court, push the tempo. It was enjoyable for me to see him on the court tonight.”
Said rookie forward Kelly Olynyk, who finished with a career-high 25 points: “Just that leadership, that competitiveness. He opens a lot of things up, draws people to him and obviously makes the right plays, so it’s great to have that leadership back and boost the team.”
Rondo said he felt it will take time to adjust to playing with his new teammates, who are vastly different than those he played with at this point last season.
“I’m still trying to find guys where they like to get their shots, rhythm,” he said. “They’re still finding where they are going to get the ball from me. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but I don’t want to spend too much time trying to figure things out. I’d just like to get it as soon as possible.”
The question now is, how long before Rondo returns to his old form, that of a player who has twice led the league in assist average, a four-time All-Star.
“He’s going to be able to get back into the flow of things quicker than most, because he’s not taking time to adjust mentally,” Stevens said.
“He’s been studying the game like he’s been out there for the last 40 games instead of just sitting there and doing what a lot of hurt guys do — and that’s not pay as much attention.”
Rondo’s minutes will increase in time, but for now, he said it was hard to play in bursts, because he essentially had to sit out for long stretches.
“I expect to win every night,” he said. “I compete. I think we have a lot of guys on the team that compete the same way I do.”
And then the ever-confident Rondo, to punctuate the night, added the following about these Celtics, who are rebuilding, namely around him, the last player left from the 2008 title team, the only one who played in the 2010 Finals:
“We’re going to be great.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.