ATLANTA — It was a normal, end-of-the-season game for the Celtics. Rajon Rondo saw it that way too, and that’s a major mental hurdle he has overcome since tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament.
It was on the Philips Arena floor that Rondo suffered the injury Jan. 25, 2013, and it cost him nearly a calendar year. In fact, he is still recovering. He said a few months ago he may be a little skittish returning to Atlanta, but his thoughts have changed.
“I thought about it on the bus on the way over here, but nah, nothing else,” he said before the Celtics lost to the Hawks, 105-97, Wednesday night. “Once you start playing, the game takes over. You don’t really think about it. It can happen anywhere but it’s just part of the game.”
When asked if he’s seen the replay of the injury, in which Rondo tweaks the knee landing after firing a pass, he said: “I looked at it once when it happened a year ago. But since then, I haven’t looked at it. It’s a play I’ve made thousands of times, so it’s just the game.”
Rondo collected 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals in 41 minutes Wednesday. In the second quarter, Rondo made a dash to the basket in precisely the same area he suffered the injury, missing a layup and tumbling over a photographer. He quickly got up and sprinted back on defense.
In 18 games since the All-Star break, Rondo is averaging 12.8 points, 11 assists, and 5.5 rebounds, showing signs he is nearing 100 percent. Rondo said he’ll know he’s 100 percent when he plays without a knee brace. That won’t happen this season.
Rondo told reporters Tuesday he would not play Saturday in Cleveland, the second game of Boston’s final back-to-back set. He has not played in any second games this season, but Wednesday he opened the possibility of playing Saturday.
“The only thing about the back-to-back, it might be something I might try to do, if I do, I might have to put myself on a minute restriction,” he said. “Just to get a feel for it so next year isn’t the first time I played a back-to-back in two years. I thought about it in my dreams. I pictured myself playing, checking Kyrie [Irving].”
When asked to give odds of playing Saturday, Rondo said: “It’s like a 3 percent chance I play. It’s better than zero.”
One good sign is the soreness Rondo had experienced the morning after games has subsided.
“The recovery is 10 times better, night and day,” he said. “I’m still a little sore but it’s not back, Achilles’ and knee. It’s one or the other. That’s a plus.”
He’d like to stay
The Celtics are the fifth team for Jerryd Bayless and he has been traded four times in five years. This summer he is a free agent for the second time in his career – he signed with the Grizzlies in 2012 — but he is not looking forward to going through the process again.
“Not really,” he said. “I understand where I’m at as well and it’s not a thing I’m really looking forward to but hopefully it can work out [in Boston] and we’ll see what happens.”
Bayless is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line since the All-Star break after a rough first six weeks in Boston. He began Wednesday by draining his first 3-point attempt against the Hawks.
“That’s one of the things I stressed when I got traded, when you go to a new situation, it takes time. Have I gotten more comfortable? Yeah, I think anybody would playing with the guys more and more.”
When he returns to his native Phoenix in the summer, Bayless will work with his AAU team and wait for offers.
“I’m the GM of that team,” he said. “We’re very good. I’m just trying to help these kids out. It’s a way to give back. As much as I can give back, that’s what I’m trying to do. The kids are good. They want to listen and they learn. So hopefully the sky’s the limit for them.”
Coach Brad Stevens doesn’t believe Kris Humphries’s knee injury is serious and he could return this season. Humphries experienced pain in his right knee and underwent an MRI Wednesday. Stevens does not plan to rest players as the season concludes . . . Stevens said he is unsure if the Celtics would practice Thursday . . . Rondo’s double-double was his 12th of the season. Jared Sullinger (15 points, 11 rebounds) posted his Celtics-high 22d double-double . . . The Hawks were without forward Pero Antic (sprained right ankle) but welcomed back Lou Williams, who missed the past two games.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.