BOSTON — Two young fans held up a sign that said, “We Miss RONDO.”
The Celtics looked just fine without him.
While star point guard Rajon Rondo began a two-game suspension, Boston got 19 points from Jeff Green and 17 from Jason Terry while cruising to a 96-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Rondo’s “our leader, so it’s tough when he’s not here,” Green said. “So everybody as a group has to pull together as a team and try and take his place.”
Rondo was suspended for his role in a scuffle during a 95-83 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers called his team “soft.”
That motivated Courtney Lee, who started in Rondo’s place and finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“Nobody wants to be called soft,” Lee said. “I took that personal because I know that I’m far from being soft and I think our team took it personal, too.”
The Celtics never trailed. They carried a 56-33 advantage into the break and took their biggest lead on a 22-foot jumper by Kevin Garnett that made it 65-38 with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
The Trail Blazers lost their fourth straight game and had just three scorers in double figures — LaMarcus Aldridge with 23 points and J.J. Hickson and Meyers Leonard with 11 each.
“We came out passive and they came out really aggressive,” Aldridge said. “After the last game (with) everything they had going on, they had to set the tone early and they did.”
The Celtics led 25-18 after one quarter and pulled away in the second when they held the Trail Blazers to just two field goals, both by Aldridge, and outscored them 31-15.
“We went into the third quarter, we played a little better, made some adjustments,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said, “but we were on our heels from the beginning.”
Aldridge provided more than half of the Trail Blazers’ points in the first half, scoring 17 while collecting five of their seven field goals. Hickson and Damian Lillard scored the others.
“When we come out and set the tone defensively, like we did tonight, that’s the type of team we are,” said Paul Pierce, who had 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists. “That’s the Celtics that I know.”
The Trail Blazers cut the lead to 58-38 before the Celtics scored the next seven on two free throws by Lee, a 3-pointer by Terry and Garnett’s jumper.
Boston led 75-59 heading into the fourth quarter and was never threatened in the final period.
“We just basically played through” the big men, Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “We took all the pressure off the guards. All they had to do is bring (the ball) up and then throw it to Kevin at the elbow or Jared (Sullinger) at the elbow and then cut and move. That way there’s no dribbling.”
Rondo leads the NBA with 12.9 assists per game but was suspended after shoving Brooklyn’s Kris Humphries. He’ll also miss Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We all know Rondo’s capabilities,” Lee said. “He’s a great playmaker. He’s going to rack up assists. Today we just came out there and played together.”
Without Rondo, the Celtics scored seven of the first eight points and led by seven after one quarter, making 57.1 percent of their shots to 31.3 percent for the Trail Blazers.
It got worse for Portland in the second quarter when Boston scored the first nine points, the first two on free throws by Leandro Barbosa and the last seven by fellow reserve Green.
“Of course, we’re frustrated,” said Portland’s Nicholas Batum, who missed nine of 11 shots. “The start of the season we played great, so we have to show some pride and (not) play ridiculous like we did tonight.”
The loss came two days after the Trail Blazers became the first team to fall to Washington, which had lost its first 12 games. The Wizards won 84-82.
Before the game, Rivers provided a glimpse of his strategy with Rondo being suspended.
“Everyone’s going to be the point guard,” he said. “I told our guys the entire team has to be ready for ballhandling duties. It left us in a pretty tough spot, but we should be able to play through this and win games still.”
NOTES: The Trail Blazers had just 12 assists. … Boston’s reserves outscored Portland’s 41-22. … Kris Joseph, recalled from Maine of the NBA Development League, played four minutes, 55 seconds and scored two points for Boston. … Portland has three more games left in a season-high, seven-game road trip: Cleveland, Charlotte and Indiana.
NETS 98, MAGIC 86: Joe Johnson had 22 points and the Brooklyn Nets earned their fifth straight victory, holding off the Orlando Magic 98-86 on Friday night in Orlando.
Gerald Wallace added 20 points, including five 3-pointers, as all five Nets starters reached double figures.
They beat the Magic for the third time this season and wrap up their three-game road trip in Miami on Saturday.
Glen Davis had 16 points to lead the Magic, who lost their third straight game.
Brooklyn center Brook Lopez missed his first game of the season with a mild right foot sprain. He is day to day.
Orlando begins a five-game road trip Sunday in Los Angeles. It will be their first meeting against Dwight Howard since trading the All-Star center this past summer.
The Magic were short-handed as well Friday, as point guard Jameer Nelson sat with a sore left Achilles tendon.
It was the latest health issue to confront Nelson, who missed his seventh game this season, after having previously been sidelined with hamstring and groin issues.
E’Twaun Moore started in his place and managed to hold his own opposite star guard Deron Williams, at times pushing the tempo for a Magic offense that had been stagnant in the half court in recent games.
But it wasn’t enough as Orlando tired down the stretch and wilted as Brooklyn pushed the pace in the second half.
The big run came just after halftime as the Nets grabbed some momentum in the third quarter and used a 15-4 spurt to take 69-56 lead.
Wallace made two 3-pointers during the run and had four makes from long distance in the quarter.
The Nets led 76-65 at the start of the fourth quarter, with Lopez’s replacement Andray Blatche becoming more active inside after a slow start.
Johnson also began to heat up, scoring six points in the period as the Nets’ lead grew to 20.
Brooklyn led 45-44 at halftime, as an energized Magic team attacked the basket and took advantage of Lopez’s absence underneath, outscoring the Nets 28-18 in the paint.
Orlando also limited the Nets’ second-chance opportunities and managed to hold a 19-17 rebounding edge.
Davis led the way for the Magic with 11 first-half points, with Moore adding eight.
Johnson picked up the slack for the Nets, hitting five of his first six shots on his way to 13 points in the first half.
NOTES: Nets coach Avery Johnson, who played for San Antonio’s 1999 championship team, said his former coach Gregg Popovich has always looked out for his players’ well-being first. That includes resting them as he sees fit. “I think Pop knows his team. He knows what’s best for his team,” Johnson said. “My main thing is I can’t tell him how to run his team. I think he does a great job historically. And whatever he’s done over his coaching career, it’s worked. He knows his team better than anybody and I’m sure he makes decisions to give his team the best chance to win in the short term and the long term.” … Brooklyn F Tomike Shengelia was inactive for the fourth straight game with a sprained left thumb.