The Boston fans had never seen Rajon Rondo in an opponent’s uniform before.
They’d never seen a game like this from him, either.
The former Celtics point guard scored a career-high 15 first-quarter points, finishing with a season-best 29 in his return to Boston to lead Dallas to a 119-101 victory Friday night. Rondo also had a career-high five 3-pointers and finished with six rebounds and five assists.
"Obviously, it was a special day," the four-time all-star said after his first game in the TD Garden since he was traded to Dallas last month. "I’m emotionally tired. I’m physically tired, and I’m drained."
Monta Ellis scored 22 points, Dirk Nowitzki added 17 and Tyson Chandler had 16 rebounds to help the Mavericks to their fourth consecutive victory. But the tone was set when Rondo scored Dallas’ first 10 points, with the usually weak outside shooter hitting his first four 3-point attempts and his first seven shots in all.
"He obviously had his best game as a Maverick," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It’s extremely difficult to come back in this situation and play the way that he did. … He showed a lot of class with the way he played."
Avery Bradley scored 22 points for the Celtics, and Tyler Zeller had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
But the Mavericks opened a 14-point lead after one quarter thanks to Rondo and went on a 13-0 run to finish the third and make it a 28-point game. The Celtics cut the deficit to 10 points with about six minutes left before Rondo hit a jumper and soon added a steal and an assist to help make it 105-90 with 4:45 to play.
"He’s a big-game player. He’s amazing," Mavericks center Chandler said. "To come into a situation like this where you spent your entire career and had incredible success, I know it had to be very emotional. But he came incredibly locked in."
Rondo received a lengthy ovation when he was introduced in the pregame warmups, and then quickly went to work. He knocked the ball loose from Jared Sullinger on Boston’s first possession, took a handoff from Chandler and went the length of the floor for a layup.
He followed that with a pair of 3-pointers and another layup before assisting on Nowitzki’s jumper. Rondo went to the bench for four minutes and came back in to hit a runner and another 3-pointer at the end of the quarter to give Dallas a 31-17 lead.
In all, he went 12 for 19 from the floor, making 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
"I told everybody that asked — all of you, all of the time — that I believed in his shot-making," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "And he shot it really well tonight."
A video before the second period was a collection of Rondo’s greatest passes, a few key shots and a couple of defensive moves as well. It ended with a shot of the `08 championship banner — the 17th in franchise history — and a picture of him hugging the golden trophy along with the caption, "Thank You Rajon!"
Both teams applauded as he walked onto the court to wave to the crowd.