Rajon Rondo lost control in the final minute of Game 1, and that means he won’t be on the court for Game 2.
The NBA announced Monday that the Boston Celtics’ star point guard has been suspended one game without pay in the opening-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Rondo will miss Tuesday night’s contest in Atlanta after sticking out his chest to bump referee Marc Davis while disputing a foul call with 41 seconds left in Boston’s Game 1 loss.
The NBA’s assist leader scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists before he was tossed, leaving Boston with a huge hole in its lineup. This is Rondo’s second suspension of the season, following a two-game ban in February for throwing a ball at an official.
”That’s part of the package with our team. We’re a volatile team in a lot of ways,” coach Doc Rivers said during a practice at Georgia Tech. ”Rondo is an emotional player. … I like his fire, but sometimes he burns you.”
Boston lost both games while Rondo was suspended, but the team is 8-5 overall in games he missed this season.
”This is a resilient basketball team,” Rivers said. ”That’s what we’ve been all year. Sometimes, it takes this stuff, for whatever reason, to snap us into playing the right way. I don’t know whether we’re going to win or lose, but I can guarantee you we’ll be ready to play.”
Rondo was about the only bright spot for Boston in the series opener. He was the lone player hitting consistently from the outside, knocking down 10 of 18 shots, and he did his usual superb job as a floor leader. It was his 24th consecutive game with double-figure assists, and he turned it over only one time.
Then, with the Celtics having trimmed a 19-point deficit down to just four, Brandon Bass went to the court tussling for a loose ball with Atlanta’s Josh Smith. Boston thought it should’ve been a jump ball, but Davis called a foul on Bass. Rondo was outraged, screaming something that immediately drew a technical. Then, with Davis’ back turned, the guard jutted out his chest to make contact with the official.
Davis signaled another technical and ejected Rondo from the game. The Hawks held on for an 83-74 victory.
Atlanta won’t have to worry about Rondo at all in Game 2.
”Certainly it changes things a little bit but, with or without him, they’ve shown they can win,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”They are a veteran ballclub. They’ve been in those situations where they’ve had players out. Certainly whether he is there or not, we can’t let our guard down.”
Second-year player Avery Bradley, who’s been starting at shooting guard for the Celtics, will likely shift over to the point to take Rondo’s place. The youngster had a rough playoff debut, getting into foul trouble and scoring just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
”He pressed,” Rivers said. ”I thought he was looking for things. He was looking to shoot instead of cut. When your mind gets too active, it’s usually hurts you. I always tell our guys that as a joke, but last night, that probably hurt Avery. He was thinking about what he wanted to do instead of just allowing the game to dictate what he should do.”
The 21-year-old Bradley, a first-round pick in 2010, spent time in the D-League during his rookie year but took on a much greater role with the Celtics this season, especially with Ray Allen battling injuries.
Allen missed the final nine games of the regular season and the playoff opener because of an ailing right ankle. He would’ve undergone surgery if it was earlier in the year, but is trying desperately to make some kind of contribution in the playoffs.
So far, the ankle just isn’t responding, and it seems highly doubtful that Allen will be able to go in Game 2
Under no circumstances will Rivers rush the 36-year-old guard back before he is fully recovered — no matter how badly the Celtics need him with Rondo suspended.
”There’s nothing we can do about it,” the coach said. ”If Ray is not ready, he’s not ready. That’s one thing I don’t do, and I’ll never do it. Maybe I’m wrong about it. But I will never put a guy out there if he’s not ready. If Ray told me he could play and Eddie (head trainer Ed Lacerte) says he didn’t think he could play, Ray would not play. That’s just the way it is. He says he feels a little better, but I just don’t see it right now.”
The Hawks have their own injury problems, with center Zaza Pachulia still trying to come back from a sprained left foot. The Hawks already played most of the season without their top center, Al Horford, so third-stringer Jason Collins started Game 1 and did a solid job (six points, five rebounds).
But Atlanta would not have won if not for Josh Smith, who scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. The Hawks’ other key player, Joe Johnson, had a miserable night: 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting, including 0 of 9 from 3-point range, not to mention four sloppy turnovers — and it nearly cost the team home-court advantage.
After scoring 31 points in the opening quarter, the Hawks were downright frigid the rest of the way. They made only 19 of 54 shots over the final three quarters.
Fortunately for Atlanta, Boston had its own problems. Paul Pierce went 5 of 19 from the field and totaled just 12 points, missing several open looks that might have completed the comeback. Kevin Garnett had a rough first half, going 1 for 9, though he did bounce back over the last two quarters to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
”We needed more scoring from me last night. My shot was off,” Pierce said. ”Not only do I have to step up, but a number of guys have got to step up.”
The Hawks insist they won’t let up just because Boston will be without one of its best players.
”They’ve won games without Rondo this year,” Hawks point guard Jeff Teague said. ”We don’t take anyone lightly or take a step down.”