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    Rajon Rondo transforms Celtics when he is out there

    Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (center) shared a laugh with Jason Terry (left) and Paul Pierce.
    Barry Chin/Globe Staff
    Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (center) shared a laugh with Jason Terry (left) and Paul Pierce.

    The Celtics lost a lot of their identity and almost all of their playmaking when Rajon Rondo sprained his right ankle in the second half of last Wednesday’s game against Utah.

    They were able to improvise enough to defeat the Jazz (98-93), and make a run at the Nets (102-97 loss Thursday). But Rondo’s return to near full strength (he said he was at “79 percent”) transformed the Celtics in a 107-89 win over the Raptors Saturday afternoon.

    “It means my teammates are making shots,” Rondo said of his 20-assist output. “I’m making some OK passes, just taking what the defense gives me.”


    Rondo submitted his 33d straight game of at least 10 assists over two seasons and his second 20-assist game this season.

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    “It’s something I look forward to every game,” Rondo said of the streak, which is third all-time behind Magic Johnson (46) and John Stockton (37). “Just trying to make my teammates happy, and somehow I keep getting to 10. Today, it was a collective team effort in terms of shots. It was a team win.”

    Rondo’s efficiency helped the Celtics prepare for Sunday night’s visit to Detroit. They are in the midst of playing seven games in 10 days.

    “It felt halfway decent,” Rondo said of his ankle. “It’s the minutes. We were able to get up to a good lead and I could sit the fourth.”

    Kevin Garnett (15 points) played a season-low 17 minutes, only six in the second half, and Paul Pierce (19 points) totaled 25 minutes.


    “When you’re in the game with him, you’re not really conscious of what he’s doing,” Garnett said of Rondo. “But I’ve never played with a point guard who is in control of the flow like he is. Probably anyone that comes to mind, I’m thinking Sam Cassell, he was pretty good at controlling the flow. He could score the ball.

    “But as far as both ends, controlling the game, understanding the flow, knowing when to slow it down, he’s probably the best at it, and he’s very conscious of the games at both ends.”

    Coach Doc Rivers compared Rondo to “Jason Kidd in his heyday, Magic all the time, Stockton. But think about it, I’ve named four or five guys. The league’s been around a long time. So it’s not a lot, and he’s one of them. He’s a rare bird.”

    Beyond his years

    Rookie Jared Sullinger totaled season highs for points (12) and rebounds (11).

    “It feels good, because I’m used to having double-doubles,” Sullinger said.


    Rivers said Sullinger was “not happy” after being pulled during Thursday’s game.

    “I wasn’t upset that I didn’t play a lot, I was just upset that we lost,” Sullinger said. “My main priority is to win.”

    Said Rivers, “He just knows how to play. He has a calming effect at times when you put him in. And I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a rookie. It’s nice to have that.”

    In a zone

    Jason Terry capitalized on the Raptors’ zone defense to score 20 points in 29 minutes.

    “I get extra excited,” Terry said of teams that play zone. “They want to pack it in and not give anything inside.

    “When our bigs roll hard, they have to be honored. As you see them at the rim, they’re catching with dunks or layups. And when that happens, the defense has to suck in, they have to help. And as a shooter you love it . . . you just have to be ready to shoot.”