NEW YORK — The Celtics need work. “A lot of work,” Rajon Rondo said Tuesday night.
That much was obvious after the Celtics were blown out, 114-88, by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
But Rondo, who is easing his way back into the lineup after missing nearly a year following a knee injury, also needs a lot of work, a point he, his coach, and his teammates are quick to admit.
“He’s still in the rehab stage, but he’s getting better and closer,” coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s getting used to playing with these guys. Obviously it has not gone fluid yet. But he’s given everything he has and he’s been great on the bench and in the locker room and everywhere else.”
However, Rondo, who had 5 assists and 7 points on 3-for-13 shooting in 27 minutes, doesn’t exactly see this time as his exhibition season, as Stevens has called it.
“This is the regular season,” Rondo said. “I just try to stay positive. I haven’t played in a year. Soon I won’t be able to say that. Things will get better. I’m not too down on myself. I’m very positive. I continue to work. My body is holding up so I feel fine.”
The Celtics are 0-6 in games he has played this season, and they’ve only won one since his return — an overtime game at Washington when he sat out to rest because it was the second-game of a back-to-back.
Stevens said he doubted Rondo would play Wednesday night in the second game of another back-to-back set, facing the 76ers at TD Garden.
For now, there is no doubt Rondo is going through an acclimation process, both as he adjusts to playing after a long layoff and also to teammates that he doesn’t know well.
“I think Jordan [Crawford] and I, we play two different styles,” Rondo said, referencing the Celtics’ previous point guard who was traded to Golden State.
“With timing, it will help, but at the same time, we don’t have any time, so we’ve got to get better each game.”
Asked what he’s looking for from himself, Rondo said, “Just my timing. My floaters. My trick shots. Just my shots around the rim. Getting a lot more consistent. And keeping my turnovers down.”
As the captain, Rondo also faces the task of getting his teammates to give more effort than they did Tuesday night, when they were nothing short of lifeless.
How does he do that?
“Just got to continue to demand it, night in, night out, on a consistent level, a consistent basis,” Rondo said.
“We’ve played so many games, we can’t take any nights off. When you do, the score ends up looking like this.”
The Celtics didn’t have many bright spots in their blowout loss, but one belonged to Chris Johnson, who hit 4 of 7 3-pointers and scored 12 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
Johnson’s hot shooting night came on the day the Celtics signed him to a second 10-day contract.
“He’s playing like one of our best players right now,” Stevens said. “I’ve got to figure out a way to find more time for him.”
Rondo is also a fan of Johnson, who is averaging 10.4 points on 50-percent shooting in his last five games since he joined the team.
“He’s playing unbelievable,” Rondo said. “He’s playing very well right now and he’s shooting the ball extremely well. He’s doing everything Coach is asking of him. I’m rooting for him.”
Johnson had been playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. His presence has helped shore up the backcourt with injuries to Avery Bradley (sprained ankle) and Jerryd Bayless (sprained left big toe).
“He’s been great, great,” Stevens said of Johnson. “He’s a guy that, we thought he might be hurt after Friday night, he twisted his ankle a little bit. He came in Saturday and he told one of our assistants, ‘I don’t have time to be hurt.’ But that’s kind of his mind-set. He really wants to play well, he really wants to perform well.”
Stevens added, “He plays with as a high of a motor as anybody we have. What I mean by that is, he’s always running to the right spots, he’s always making cuts. He’s in great physical condition. I think that’s shown with some opportunities at the rim.”
The Celtics now face a decision about what to do when these next 10 days are up, because a player can only sign two 10-day contracts with the same team in one season.
If the team wants to retain a player after the second 10-day contract, it must sign him for the rest of the season.
“Hopefully,” Johnson said. “That’s the main goal. But these next 10 days, I’m going to focus, one day at a time, work hard in practice, learn from the coaches, learn from the players, just keep getting better.”
Bayless returned to action after missing four games with a sprained left big toe suffered Jan. 19 in the loss to the Magic in Orlando.
He came off the bench and played nearly 27 minutes, scoring 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting.