Birthdaygate closed for Rondo, C's

In April 2012, with the lockout-shortened regular season winding down, then-Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers greeted veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with some good news following a win in New Jersey: The duo was being left behind in New York while the rest of the team continued on to Charlotte.

The Celtics, playing four games in five nights and in the midst of one of those back-to-back-to-back lockout anomalies, were scheduled to visit the Knicks two nights later, so Pierce and Garnett -- knowing they would not play in Charlotte -- got a mini in-season vacation at the team's hotel in New York City.

Rajon Rondo greeted the opportunity as a chance to show what he could do without his Big Three brethren (Ray Allen was sidelined at the time because of an ankle injury) and responded with 20 points, 16 assists, six rebounds and a steal over 43-plus minutes while pacing Boston to a win over the Bobcats. No one fretted the absence of Pierce and Garnett that night.

Fast-forward 22 months, and a buzz lingers around whether Rondo, not scheduled to play on the second night of a back-to-back, made the right decision to skip a recent trip to Sacramento while celebrating his 28th birthday last Saturday in Los Angeles.

We recall the story of Garnett and Pierce not to absolve Rondo from blame. We've maintained that, in the fallout from his absence, Rondo could have easily defused the entire situation by publicly noting that he did not intend to disrespect his teammates or the coaching staff with his decision not to travel.

But it's merely a reminder that, as bad as Rondo's decision looked, it's not without precedent. You can make a case that Rondo has grown up in a Celtics organization where players and coaches have often utilized small breaks in the action to indulge themselves, including Rivers, who coddled his veterans and often diverted from the team to watch his children's athletic endeavors, including son Austin's lone season at Duke that same year.

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Friday that he has closed the book on Birthdaygate after a lengthy phone conversation with Rondo on Thursday in which Ainge emerged satisfied that both sides learned from the incident.

While Ainge wouldn't discuss whether Rondo actually erred in his decision, or if he was fined if he did, Ainge did hint that the consternation about Rondo's action this week might have been a wee bit overblown and it in no way diminished Rondo's ability to lead these transitioning Celtics.

"I've been around a lot of leaders, and leaders make a lot of mistakes," Ainge said. "Mistakes don't disqualify you from being a leader."

So those who have requested Rondo be stripped of his captaincy should take a deep breath. The Celtics, as an organization, are at peace now with what happened. They're hoping it was merely all a learning experience.

You can make the case that this was inevitable (in some form or another). You have a first-year captain raised by one set of rules and a first-year NBA coach still trying to establish his own jurisdiction.

Rondo had been the model leader. He accompanied the team on the road throughout the start of the season while rehabbing from ACL surgery. His efforts led the team to anoint him as captain during his return to game action in mid-January.

There is a chance Rondo truly thought nothing of his decision to stay in Los Angeles. And there is a chance Stevens, unfamiliar with the ways of old, was both surprised by Rondo's decision and put off a bit by how it looked to have the captain stay behind.

But Stevens stressed again Friday that it's in the past. He met with Rondo on Monday in Utah and put it in the rearview mirror. Stevens contends he was far more interested to see how Rondo responded Wednesday as he began drawing criticism for his decision.

"I thought the best way for [Rondo] to [move forward] was to lead and play well on Wednesday," Stevens said. "I sent him a text [Thursday] because it's not easy when you're kinda in the middle of a storm cloud to go out and perform, or go out and put forth the right amount of effort.

"We don't win that game [against Atlanta] if he doesn't dive on the floor when it's 23-10. I am dead convinced. It turned the whole game around. It turned the whole game around. He dove on the floor, he cut up his chin, we got energized, it became contagious, and that was the best way that he could respond to everything."

The Celtics were down 13 when Rondo laid out at midcourt, cutting open his chin on the leprechaun logo during a scramble that produced a steal. Boston, lifeless to that point, trimmed its deficit to two over the final four minutes of the first quarter and went on to win the game with Rondo scoring a season-high 22 points to go along with 11 assists and three steals over 35-plus minutes.

To Stevens, what Rondo does Saturday against the Indiana Pacers is far more important than what he did last Saturday in Los Angeles.

Like much of the 2013-14 season, Boston is learning from its experience. Reflecting on the situation Friday, Ainge noted, "This is really just an opportunity to talk."

There are, of course, lingering issues. Rondo showed his typical stubbornness during the process, and his polarizing nature in this city forced the story to take on a life of its own.

But as far as the Celtics are concerned, it's in the past. To them, Birthdaygate is closed.