BOSTON -- On the opening tip of the Celtics' game against the Wizards on Sunday, their first home contest in 16 days, Kevin Garnett sent the ball back to Rajon Rondo. But Rondo wasn't quite ready for the ball; he was too busy tightening his shorts. (Why these guys don't do that before they go onto the court is a mystery to me.)
So the ever-resourceful Rondo lowered his noggin and headed the ball. It bounced a couple of times, he managed to free his hands, and then went out and played one of those bizarre Rondo games that we've come to expect every now and then. He had 4 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 6 turnovers in 34 minutes.
He wouldn't shoot. He took only five shots, most of them coming after Doc Rivers threatened his per diem. He passed up layups to try and feed someone else for a three-pointer. It almost looked as though he had an assists clause in his contract for this specific game. Or maybe he was determined to out-assist fellow Wildcat John Wall (which he did, 11-9).
"It's just Rondo,'' said Doc Rivers, when asked about his point guard's interesting game. "When we win, I feel good about it."
They did win. Easily. The final score of 88-76, however, doesn't begin to describe the overall weirdness of the evening. It started with Rondo's header and ended with newcomer Ryan Hollins (3 points, 1 rebound) getting a live post-game interview usually reserved for a player who, you know, makes a difference, and saying that Boston fans were the best in the world. This from a California kid, no less (John Muir High in Pasadena and then UCLA).
But this was one of those strange nights that populate the NBA calendar. There's no reasonable explanation. The planets appear to be in proper alignment. It just ... happens.
To wit: How would you feel if you knew at halftime that only two Celtics were in double figures and their names were Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma? You'd naturally have the Celtics up by 19, right? They were, 53-34, thanks in part to their work but also to a first quarter by the Wizards that established a season low, even for them. They scored 12 points on 3-of-22 shooting.
Coach Randy Wittman trotted out a starting five of Wall and four refugees from the D-League. Well, maybe three. Jordan Crawford has some offensive punch. Not only did they shoot the aforementioned execrable percentage, they managed to elevate Bradley to the point where the folks in Springfield were ready to call.
Bradley outscored the Wizards all by himself in the first quarter, 15-12, and it took Washington another four minutes in the second quarter before it would overtake the second-year guard. Bradley made all seven of his shots in the first quarter. Most were layups from back-door cuts or from simply moving without the ball.
"I could have scored those layups," sniffed Washington coach Randy Wittman. "I'm serious. We didn't have anybody guarding him. He ought to send us a postcard of thank yous or something for allowing him to score."
Wittman is correct in that assessment. His team was beyond dreadful at both ends in the first half. In the first quarter, the Wizards missed their first eight shots and didn't make a basket until the game was nearly five minutes old. It was better in the second; the Wizards needed only 3 minutes, 19 seconds to score their first basket.
Rivers naturally pointed to the defensive pressure of Rondo and Bradley, but this was a case of out-and-out ineptitude.
"I don't know where it came from," Wittman said. "We had been playing pretty well out of the gate lately. This? I can't explain it."
Bradley, by the way, finished with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Rivers had always insisted Bradley could shoot and then admitted, "he was making a liar out of me." Watching Bradley go up for a shot wasn't quite cringe-inducing, but it was close.
Against the Wiz, however, he was money. He knocked down a trey, his second in as many games. He made all four of his free throws. It was a clutch outing given the absences of Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (concussion). There's hope for the lad yet.
As for the Steamer, he is finding his way. Maybe he was on a mission because his alma mater dropped a close one to Syracuse in the East Regional on Thursday night (Wisconsin lost by a point and had a chance to win but never got off a decent shot). He had 10 points, all in the first half, when the Celtics led by as many as 25. He added 7 rebounds as well.
"He was terrific,'' Rivers said of Stiemsma.
Stiemsma also is getting much more comfortable out there, even though he gets called for a foul if he's anywhere in the vicinity. At one point, after losing a rebound because a Washington player climbed up his back, Stiemsma turned to veteran official Michael Smith and simply gave him the Pat Summit stare. No call?
No call. But a couple months ago, he wouldn't have even blinked.
"You're obviously not going to get them to change their mind," he said. "I've yet to do that. It's all part of the game. I think my confidence is coming. It's been building all season and right now I feel as good about my game as I have all year."
So there you have it. A wire-to-wire Celtics win starting with a Rondo header and led by two guys who combined to average 27 minutes a game. Oh, the Wizards made it somewhat interesting, necessitating an appearance from Paul Pierce (21 points).
But for the first home game after that monster road trip, this one had all the earmarks of a disjointed game. The Celtics will take the W. And if they win Monday night in Charlotte, they will tie the Sixers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
After all they've been through lately, how weird is that?
Longtime Celtics writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.