- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- Rajon Rondo didn't apologize. In his mind, he probably doesn't think he has to. Not publicly, at least.
Suspended for Game 2 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Atlanta Hawks, Rondo celebrated the win by not only rushing down the tunnel at Philips Arena to bear-hug Kevin Garnett but also by waiting outside the Celtics' bus to shake hands with his teammates and show genuine appreciation for them pulling out a game in which he could not participate.
To him, that's probably as much as needed to be done. And that might have been more than most expected.
"I don't know if he would have done that two years ago," said coach Doc Rivers. "He would have been thankful, but he would have been in the back of the bus with his head down -- down on himself. Instead, I'm sure he still was, but he showed emotion towards the other guys."
As Rivers noted about his 26-year-old point guard, we're "watching him grow up in front of us."
Maybe in two more years, Rondo will stand up in front of reporters and admit that bumping an official, as he did with 41 seconds remaining in Sunday's Game 1 loss, is unacceptable, that leaving his team without its only pure ballhandler for a must-win playoff game is intolerable.
At the moment, he simply can't stomach it.
Some will wonder why Rondo can't be contrite in this situation, how he can't put aside his bravado to simply say, "I'm sorry."
To understand, you have to keep in mind how he views Sunday's ejection. Rondo wanted to win that game so badly, he acted out when he felt like a referee was preventing his team from having a chance to do so.
To Rondo, there is nothing more important than the victory.
Let's make something absolutely clear: That in no way justifies his action. Making contact with a referee is about the dumbest thing a player can do -- regardless of the situation but particularly in the postseason -- and is especially mindless for a player who was suspended for a pair of games just three months earlier for similar insubordination.
During a five-minute conversation with reporters before the team's practice Thursday at HealthPoint, Rondo made it clear that the final result is the only thing that matters to him -- though history suggests that the process does matter to him, whether it's a double-digit assist streak or a triple-double on a national stage.
It would seem that Boston's ability to pull out a victory without him in some way absolved Rondo from any guilt he might have felt at being suspended. As he noted at one point, "Regardless of how we got the win, we got the win."
Whether they agree with his approach toward the situation, his teammates and coaches seem to understand why he was so steamed in Game 1. Unable to get over the hump much of the night, Boston finally whittled a 19-point deficit as low as four in the closing moments. But the Celtics essentially lost two chances at possession when an out-of-bounds call went against them and when Brandon Bass was whistled for a foul while going to the floor to try to force a jump ball in the final minute.
Rondo exploded, earned one technical for his outburst and then another when he pursued referee Marc Davis to vent and bumped into him from behind. That contact cost him Game 2 and put his team in a compromising spot.
Rivers said he likes the fire that Rondo operates with, but sometimes you get burnt.
"I always think his intentions are right," Rivers said Thursday. "That doesn't mean he does the right things all the time. I'd rather have a guy that, to me, had good intentions than guys that are just thinking about themselves purely. When those acts happen, you view them as a selfish act, but I don't think he did it selfishly. It just turned into a selfish act."
Asked Thursday if he felt he let his team down, Rondo barked, "No," and threw the question back at the reporter. The follow-up asked him to explain how he got into that situation to begin with.
"I try not to let my emotions get the best of me, but I'm an emotional player," he said. "I try to keep my composure and my emotions to myself, but it was a heat-of-the-battle moment and I wanted to win. We make mistakes. I'm not on trial or anything."
He probably felt like he was on Thursday in front of a horde of microphones, and Rondo got defensive at times because of it. He didn't like the insinuation that he might have something extra to prove during Friday's Game 3 at TD Garden.
"I don't have anything to prove. Why would I have anything to prove? I just want to win. That's it," said Rondo. "I'm confused about why [reporters] would think I have anything to prove. It's a game that I've been playing my entire life. The world knows what I can do. Like I said, the world knows what I can do. I'm just going to out and do what I do best and try to be the best point guard in the NBA."
As a coach's whistle blew and players were herded into the locker room for a film session, Rondo closed by noting, "You learn from your mistakes. It's not the end of the world. I only got suspended one game. The great thing about it is the series is 1-1 and we're in Boston."
He never apologized. At least not publicly. As long as his team keeps winning, Rondo probably won't ever apologize for his actions.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
Rajon Rondo has come a long way, but he still may have some growing up to do.