BOSTON — Brad Stevens got his first up-close look at the dynamic Rajon Rondo Sunday.
Clearly, the rookie Boston Celtics coach liked what he saw.
“I’ve seen pretty darn close. [He’s] just wearing the rust off a little bit, but, yeah, he was good,” Stevens said after Rondo played his best game since returning from knee surgery.
Rondo picked up his first win of the season in the Celtics’ 96-89 victory over the Orlando Magic in a not-so-super matchup on Super Sunday.
“I was not surprised. Watching him play for so many years, I’ve probably caught all the really good games because that’s when you’re paying the most attention in the playoffs and everything else when you’re far away from it. But he was obviously good tonight and he gives you a lot of pluses moving forward.”
The talented point guard, who had been on the losing end in his first six games back, combined with forward Jared Sullinger to lead the charge in what resulted in another one of those dubious victories.
Both teams are “battling” for lottery position — the Celtics improving to 16-33, including 3-1 against the Magic, and Orlando falling to 13-36.
Rondo, just 17-of-61 from the floor in his first six games, went 9-of-11 on Sunday, scoring a season-high 19 points and adding 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes. His time was cut short by second-half foul trouble, but he took over down the stretch, keeping his team under control.
Talking about Rondo’s shot, which is often criticized, Stevens said, “That’s one of those things that, you don’t play for a year, that shot’s probably a little bit rusty. But now that he’s seven or eight games back — he’s a very, very good shooter who has put in more time to be a good shooter. Better than his statistics in the past would say, so I feel really good about him pulling up and making those shots.”
Sullinger scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, forward Brandon Bass had 19 points and nine boards and guard Avery Bradley, back after missing five games with a right ankle sprain and playing even though he was not fully recovered, had 17 points.
“Rondo is a coach on the floor and he’s leading us,” said Bass, lauded by his coach for his terrific effort against his former team. “It felt great.”
The guard combination of Rondo and Bradley, which hasn’t been together much because of injuries to both, can be a dangerous 1-2 punch.
“Rondo’s a very good player. He makes it easier on everybody,” said Bradley. “I’m just excited to be back on the court with him.”
Guard Arron Affalo led the Magic with 18 points, while former Celtic Glen Davis had 15 points and center Nick Vucevic added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“We stuck with our principles and what we wanted to do. He just came through for his team,” Davis, who got a nice hand in the pre-game intros, said of Rondo.
Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn, asked about Rondo’s effect on the game, said, “Just his ability to orchestrate … play comes down to the fourth quarter, he sees the pass before everyone else does, he kicks it to Jeff Green for a jumper, gets into the lane, reads the defense — so he’s done it a few times before.”
The Celtics, who have six straight home wins over the Magic, ended a four-game losing streak and won for the fourth time in their last 23 games. Orlando has lost 16 of its last 19.
Boston won even though forward Jeff Green went just 2-of-13 from the floor, scoring eight points to go with five assists and four turnovers.
NOTES: Magic G Jameer Nelson didn’t make the trip because of a knee injury. … Celtics F Gerald Wallace, who was in Atlanta due to a death in the family, made it back just in time for the game, but did not play. … This was the Magic’s fourth Super Bowl Sunday game in Boston. The NFC team won the other three. … The Celtics allowed the 10-day contract of G Vander Blue to expire. He was with the team because of the injuries to G Avery Bradley and G Jerryd Bayless. Both are back, Bradley returning Sunday after missing five games with an ankle sprain. … The Magic visit the Indiana Pacers Monday night, while the Celtics are at Philadelphia Wednesday. … Celtics C Vitor Faverani was back with the team after playing two games in the D-League. He did not play Sunday. …Sunday marked the first game for each team using basketballs with new commissioner Adam Silver’s signature on them.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.