Loss cuts Rondo deeper than stitches

BOSTON -- Of course he came back.

Rajon Rondo took an inadvertent elbow to the head midway through the third quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Toronto Raptors, and though it split him between his eyes, Rondo took nine stitches (of course, No. 9 did) and returned to play the final eight minutes, nearly sparking a Boston rally from a double-digit deficit.

Rondo played the final frame wearing a protective bandage that ran from his forehead to the bridge of his nose. There was no question in his mind that he'd be back in the game.

After all, this is the same guy who dislocated his elbow in a playoff game against Miami, snapped it back into place, and returned. This is the same player who tore his ACL 14 months ago and tried to play on because he thought he just had some hamstring discomfort.

A superficial wound? That wasn't going to deter Rondo from coming back into the game.

Here's why it matters: Who would have blamed Rondo if he decided to take the rest of the night off? The Celtics were on their way to their 48th loss of a transition season, and the only jockeying for position that Boston is engaged in at the moment is in regards to how low they can go in the standings.

But there was Rondo, returning to the bench while team trainer Ed Lacerte was still probably putting away his needle.

"I just want to win," Rondo said of his return. "I hate losing. I just hate losing."

Rondo came under intense scrutiny last month for a decision to skip a game out west that he knew he would not be playing in. Fair or not, it became a bit of a circus and Rondo's leadership was questioned for his decision to attend his own birthday party in Los Angeles rather than accompany the team to Sacramento.

Games like Wednesday won't draw nearly as much attention, but Rondo's actions deserve notice. Despite the fact that Boston had lost six of its last seven and trailed the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors by as much as 15 during Rondo's brief absence, he asked back in because he hates the way that losing gnaws at him.

"That's what kind of player he is," said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. "He's tough, he wants to win. I knew he'd come back without skipping a beat and he gave us a chance to win the game at the end."

Rondo finished with nine points, 15 assists, four rebounds, and two steals over 32 minutes. He had started fast, racking up double-digit assists while playing the first 15 minutes of the game. With his familiar headband making a rare cameo, Rondo seemed in triple-double mode.

About the only thing that could slow him was Greivis Vasquez's elbow. Rondo clipped it running along the baseline midway through the third quarter and immediately grabbed at his forehead near the Toronto bench. He walked off gingerly with Lacerte while clutching a towel to his head.

Rondo returned with Boston down seven and 8:05 to play. He went right back to doing Rondo things, like assisting on all three of Jared Sullinger's fourth-quarter 3-pointers that helped Boston surge as close as three. Toronto simply made tough shots to end up with the win.

Rondo was still feisty as he emerged to chat with reporters an hour after Wednesday's loss. Asked if he'd have to wear any protective gear moving forward, he took a slight jab at Miami's LeBron James.

"Just the Band-Aid for now," noted Rondo. "I might try to wear a mask, but I doubt it. A black mask."

Ah yes, leave it to Rondo to leave his audience in stitches. And fans will get a larger dose of his subtle humor (mixed with knowledgeable game assessment) when Rondo takes on the role of color commentator for a quarter on Monday in Chicago.

You see, Rondo is sitting out the second night of a back-to-back against the Bulls, and perhaps he's showing that he has learned a bit from the birthday hoopla. He'll spend his downtime accompanying the team to the Windy City and sitting in with Comcast SportsNet play-by-play legend Mike Gorman for the first quarter of the game.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he'd have a chat with Rondo before Monday's game to ensure he doesn't reveal all the team's secrets (not that there are many in a 48-loss campaign).

"I'm not going to give up any of his secrets," said Rondo. "I'm still working on that. I don't want to get caught up in the moment. I should be pretty harsh on Chicago."

Rondo had plenty of time to scout his role as commentator last season when he missed much of the final three months after tearing the ACL.

"I just thought it would be something fun to do," said Rondo. "I've been knowing Mike and Tommy [Heinsohn] ... ever since I've been here, and those guys have always been generous to me. I'll get a chance to do something different, have a little fun with Mike."

Is announcing something Rondo might gravitate to after his playing days?

"Who knows? It's something different," he said. "It was the one night I was actually watching the game, the replay of the game, I was pretty fascinated by how good Mike and Tommy are. I figured I wasn't doing anything in the back-to-back of the Chicago game. I told Mike and he took it from there."

The Celtics better make sure Rondo is on the inactive list that night. Otherwise he might try to be the first player to do color commentary in the first half and play in the second. Wednesday only reaffirmed how hard it is to keep him on the sidelines during game action.