Rajon Rondo lost control of his emotions temporarily, bumped a referee, got suspended for Game 2 and left the Celtics in one hell of a hard place: They needed to beat the Hawks without their All-Star point guard, without Ray Allen, too, or else they would head back to Boston down 0-2 and in serious trouble.
If the Celtics had lost, the blame placed on Rondo’s stupid actions would have been multiplied. He would have been vilified on sports radio shows and Gerry Callahan probably would have written a second column to bash him. He would have returned to Boston the goat who moronically bumped a referee with 41 seconds left in Game 1 and — hey, the Celtics were down just four points at the time of Rondo’s ejection; crazier things have happened — might have cost the Celtics both of their first two playoff games.
Instead, the Celtics won Game 2 and Keyon Dooling dedicated the victory to Rondo.
The Celtics could have been mad at Rondo for losing his emotions. Instead, they came to his defense. Kevin Garnett called his younger teammate “the head that forms Voltron… the Black Lion.” Doc Rivers agreed that Rondo never should have bumped an official, but said he would rather kindle a fire than start one. And moments after the Celtics put the finishing touches on their 87-80 Game 2 victory, Dooling gave Rondo another vote of confidence.
“This is a tribute to Rondo. We’ve got his back,” Dooling said.
I have no idea what, besides evening the series at 1-1, motivated Paul Pierce’s 36-point, 14-rebound performance, but I found myself wondering if Pierce especially wanted the win for Rondo. Remember, Pierce has been there before, in 2005, after flagrantly fouling Jamal Tinsley, getting ejected and showing up to the press conference podium wearing a fake bandage on his head. Bob Ryan called that foul “the single most unforgivable, untimely, stupid, and flat-out selfish on-court act in the history of the Celtics” and Boston fans were just about fed up with Pierce and his antics.
Rondo isn’t in the exact same spot Pierce was — he’s already won a title with Boston, whereas Pierce hadn’t done any real winning yet at the time of his incident — but he’s a similarly young athlete who’s maturing underneath the public eye and being judged harshly for a terrible decision that took no more than a split-second. I had a radio appearance with ESPN Springfield yesterday before the game, and the host asked me whether I thought Rondo’s legacy has already been cemented and tarnished after his actions in Game 1.
I responded something like, “Um, he’s 26 years old. Do you remember how we viewed Pierce’s immaturity just seven years ago?”
Rondo’s actions still deserve our scorn, but they did not cost the Celtics a victory (unless you envisioned them delivering a miraculous comeback in Game 1). He can thank Pierce, Dooling, Kevin Garnett, Avery Bradley, Ryan Hollins, Marquis Daniels and everyone else who contributed to Boston’s win. The Celtics had his back.