Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a fourth-quarter left ankle sprain that briefly sent him to the locker room, but laughing off his string of recent bumps and bruises, the fifth-year point guard said he expects to play Thursday night when Boston hosts the Atlanta Hawks in the second night of a back-to-back.
"It hurts, but all ankle sprains hurts," said Rondo, who has also battled a sore left hamstring, which recently sidelined him for five games, and plantar fasciitis. "I expect to play. I think I’m going to do [X-rays Thursday] morning and see how I feel. Get through the night and hope it doesn’t swell up."
Rondo fell to the court 23 seconds into the fourth quarter after awkwardly turning his ankle as he tried to make a cut. After trying to stretch out the injury, he slowly got to his feet and had to be aided off the court by trainer Ed Lacerte.
Rondo got the ankle re-taped and was back on the floor with 8:35 to go in a tie game.
"I wanted to [get back in the game]," said Rondo. "I tried to put a little pressure on it in the back, then Ed re-taped me."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted Rondo's injury wasn't his top priority with Boston locked in a seesaw battle. But the Celtics wanted to go small and that plan hinged on Rondo.
"We needed him," said Rivers. "Rondo was struggling in the third quarter and that’s why I took him out. He wasn’t very happy with it, but we don’t really mind about that. And Nate [Robinson] came in and played great, but we needed [Rondo]. We needed him in the game because our whole plan down the stretch was to go small, and if Rondo couldn’t have come in, I thought we would have been in a little trouble because down the stretch against that team, I thought we had to go small."
Rondo finished with 10 points, 14 assists and 3 rebounds over 34 minutes 9 seconds of action. He committed six turnovers and wasn't as crisp as in his triple-double performance that included 24 assists in the teams' first meeting in Boston, but his value to the team is clear. That's why the Celtics voiced concern about his health.
"I worry about him a lot," said Kevin Garnett, who went over to Rondo as he was being helped off. "He's a very tough individual and for him to need help -- to have to be helped off with Ed -- there was concern for me, so I just wanted to make sure he was all right.
"You have to have that something special -- that oomph -- that makes you what you want to be in this league. We’re going to fight to the end -- [Rondo's] foot hurt, his leg hurt, and he's dealing with multiple injuries -- but the kid comes out here and gives everything he has every night. That’s what it is."
After talking with reporters, Rondo still hadn't put his left shoe on as he prepared to depart the arena, likely anticipating some swelling. He'll be reevaluated Thursday, but expect the Celtics to exercise the same caution they have with all of their injuries this season.
Captain Paul Pierce didn't sound too confident about having Rondo's services Thursday.
"He’s been banged up over the last month," said Pierce. "There’s probably a slim chance we’ll have him [Thursday]. So, we’ve played a few games without him. We’ve got to make adjustments, that happens, but, hey, what’s new for us? We've got a lot of guys going down right now, and we keep finding ways."
--GARNETT DEFENDS STOUDEMIRE WHEN IT MATTERS MOST--
The Celtics would have preferred to put Garnett on Amar'e Stoudemire for much of the night, but with a lack of bigs -- Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal remain sidelined with leg injuries -- Rivers was forced to play it safe and avoid foul trouble by keeping Garnett away from New York's offensive-minded big man for much of the evening.
But when Boston needed a stop in the waning moments, Garnett provided pressure on Stoudemire.
"We didn’t have KG on Stoudemire a whole bunch because we just didn’t have enough bigs," said Rivers. "We can’t afford KG or [Glen Davis] to get into foul trouble, then you’re stuck with [rookie] Semih [Erden] on the floor guarding [Stoudemire], and we just can’t [do that]. Obviously, if you had [Kendrick Perkins] and Shaq, KG would have been on Stoudemire probably the whole game. Right now, the way we’re constructed, we can’t afford it."
Rivers also rested Garnett until there was 7:48 remaining in the game, hoping to maximize him over the final minutes.
"We kept him down on the bench until, what, eight or seven minutes?" asked Rivers. "It’s a regular-season game, the way I look at it, we play [Thursday], we’re trying to win both games, and I didn’t want to put him back in with 10 minutes left. I was sitting there thinking about both games at that point, which is tough to do. All I did was look at the scoreboard. If we could stick within three and five, I was going to keep him down. If it got to seven or nine, I was going to bring him back in. Then down the stretch, we knew we could play him. He had his legs."
--LOOSE BALLS: DELAY OF GAME; TRIFECTA STREAK; CHARGE WATCH--
* Garnett got Boston whistled for a team technical foul after getting back-to-back delay-of-game calls in the second quarter for tapping the ball to the official after making a pair of shots. Rivers said he didn't understand why Garnett got whistled, but didn't focus on the matter.
"No idea," said Rivers. "I didn’t know. It happened twice, back to back. I thought you could catch it and throw it to the ref, but I guess you can’t."
* Pierce had missed a career-high 17 consecutive 3-pointers before canning a trifecta 1:28 into Wednesday's game. Pierce, last year's NBA 3-point champion at All-Star weekend, watched his percentage dip from 46.4 percent (well above the career-high 41.4 percent he shot last year) to 35.6 percent entering Wednesday's game. Pierce connected on 2-of-4 triples Wednesday, another sign he's feeling better after battling flu-like symptoms recently.
"I thought the three days' rest, you guys actually saw it [Tuesday] and I made the point before the game, he hadn’t played 1-on-1 in three weeks because he hadn’t felt great," said Rivers. "[Tuesday] he played 1-on-1 for about an hour, and you could see it. He actually did it after practice too. That’s when we knew he had his rhythm back."
* The Celtics rallied in the second half on the strength of their defense (essentially treading water when they allowed the Knicks to score at will all other times). Two key plays in the fourth quarter were Nate Robinson taking a charge and Davis absorbing an offensive foul. Robinson drew a call on Toney Douglas with 9:45 to play and Davis got a whistle on Stoudemire with 8:34 to go, also eliciting a technical foul that helped Boston tie the game on a Ray Allen free throw. Davis hit his head hard on the floor on the play, but stayed in the game a brief time before being relieved by Garnett over the final 7:48.
For Robinson, it was his third charge drawn of the season. Davis boasts 29 total offensive fouls drawn, 27 of which are charges.