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.