When Rajon Rondo returned to play minutes after his dislocated elbow bent in directions it wasn’t meant to, nobody needed Albert Einstein to point out, “That kid is tough.” A month and a half after Rondo’s injury—a month and a half after he played the final two and a half games against Miami with only one functioning arm—he still isn’t medically cleared to play basketball. Rondo won’t be allowed to return to the court for another four weeks.
We knew at the time of the injury that Rondo shouldn’t be playing with his elbow like that; the arm dangled at his side like an icicle, mostly useless and clearly painful. We know now that Rondo’s injury required more than two months of recovery time. He returned in seven minutes. I wonder if that would impress Gregg Popovich.
As badly as Boston’s season ended, the Rondo Elbow game perfectly captivated everything I love about this Celtics team. On one night, Kevin Garnett returned to his 20s to swallow Chris Bosh whole, Shaq returned from injury and hobbled around the court even though he could barely move, Ray Allen tried to physically confront Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce outplayed Lebron James, and Rondo took seven minutes to return from an injury that still keeps him off the floor a month and a half later. Age could not stop the Celtics, nor could more talented opponents, nor could injuries. They would ultimately fall to James, Wade, Miami and their own mortality, just as they fell to the Lakers last season, but the Celtics—as always—gave away no free lunches.
With hindsight being 20/20, Rondo still has the guts of a burglar, just like we suspected when we saw him return that night, during a glorious game we might (but hopefully won’t) come to regard as the Big Three’s final stand.