WALTHAM, Mass. — Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers did his best to stay out of the trainer’s room on Sunday, lest he learn something about one of his injured players that he didn’t want to hear.
“It’s a pretty busy room right now,” he said on Sunday, a day after the Celtics earned a bruising 97-81 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals despite injuries to point guards Rajon Rondo and Delonte West. “Right now, we’re going to go with, ‘They’re all playing.’”
Rondo dislocated his left elbow in the third quarter on Saturday night when he got tangled up with Miami guard Dwyane Wade and got thrown to the floor. He had an MRI and CAT scan at New England Baptist Hospital on Sunday, and both tests came out negative, Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said.
West, who had a bruised left shoulder, was feeling better on Sunday and did not go to the hospital for tests, Twiss said. Rivers said he would likely decide just before gametime — or later — whether Rondo will play.
“I’m optimistic about both, that they’re going to play. I don’t know why I am, but I am,” Rivers said, adding that he has tried to avoid watching the video of Rondo’s arm being bent into an unnatural position when he was thrown to the floor by Wade. “I just don’t know how well either one can play.”
The Celtics returned to Boston after losing the first two games in Miami and showed the fight that had been lacking when they fell behind 0-2. Kevin Garnett scored 28 points with 18 rebounds — more than he had in the first two games combined — and Paul Pierce added 27 points for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Game 4 is Monday night, and the Celtics are hoping to tie the series before it shifts back to Miami.
To do that, they’ll need Rondo.
The youngest — by far — of Boston’s four All-Stars, Rondo was injured early in the second half when he was fouled by Wade. Doctors popped his elbow back into place in the locker room and he was back on the court at the start of the fourth quarter, dribbling, passing and shooting with his right arm while leaving his left dangling at his side.
“All of us sort of looked at each other like, ‘What is he doing out here?’” Garnett said. “He’s showing a lot of heart (and) a lot of grit. We see it. That doesn’t go unspoken or unseen. We see he’s out there giving his full effort. We’re following that lead.”
Rondo finished with 11 assists and six points, including a pair of one-armed baskets in the fourth quarter that the Celtics called the spark they had been lacking.
“Listen,” Rivers said with a laugh, “I played with one hand my entire career. So you can do it. And he did it.
“Players play. We can all tell our war stories. But very few could do that — especially in this situation. They try, but very few could succeed. Yesterday was just another example of an NBA player not caring about his health and trying to help the team.”
Rondo was not available for comment on Sunday, but he said after the game that he was not concerned. Rivers said he was laying on the trainer’s table, with his elbow wrapped in ice, “half-asleep” from painkillers. Both teams described the play as a hard foul, and neither felt that Wade was trying to injure Rondo with the takedown.
“He’s about as tough a guy as you’ll come across in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I wasn’t even surprised that he came back. He’s that type of competitor. You don’t like to see anybody injured at this time of year, even your opponent. We want to beat Boston when they’re at their best and their healthiest.”
Wade didn’t want to talk about it.
“I’m not answering questions about that. I’m done with that. I’m moving on,” he said. “Ain’t nobody fighting, this is basketball. Keep them back from what? They going to beat me up? Did everybody watch the replay? All right.
“I’m done. I’ve moved on from that.”
Rondo and West aren’t Boston’s only injuries. Center Shaquille O’Neal was also dealing with swelling in his right calf after playing 8 minutes, 29 seconds — his first appearance of the playoffs and just his second since Feb. 1. “I think he’s going to have that for the rest of the year,” Rivers said.
And the Heat have injury problems of their own. Chris Bosh woke up with a pinched nerve in his neck, though he said it was no excuse for his performance in the game; he scored six points with five rebounds in 30 minutes.
“The way we’ve been successful all year is by executing our offense, and a lot of that offense runs through Chris,” Spoelstra said. “We have to help him as well.”
Udonis Haslem still is not ready to return from November foot surgery. And there are more than a few bruised egos on the Miami said.
LeBron James scored 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting, adding seven rebounds and four assists for his worst playoff performance in more than three years. Combined, Miami’s Big Three had a total of 44 points — the fewest since they joined together amid much hoopla during the offseason.
The answer, James said, could be even more physical play of the type that filled the Celtics training room.
“We’ve got to be aggressive. They’re a very aggressive team. The only way you counter aggressiveness is to be aggressive on the other end, too,” he said “We know we didn’t play as well as we wanted to — probably our worst game of the postseason. We’re looking to get better in Game 4.”