BOSTON — Brad Stevens knew he had an all-star point guard when he took the Celtics’ coaching job, but he didn’t really get to see it in his first season on the Boston bench.
Reconstructive knee surgery kept Rajon Rondo out for the first half of Stevens’ inaugural season in Boston. Rondo hadn’t yet regained his old form when, as Stevens prepared for Year 2, Rondo broke his hand.
After missing the entire exhibition season, though, Rondo returned for the regular season opener on Oct. 29 and scored 13 points, adding 12 assists and seven rebounds in 30 minutes to help the Celtics beat the Brooklyn Nets 121-105.
“He looks like himself,” Stevens said. “He kind of looks like what I saw on film before I got here. I don’t think he ever looked like that at any time last year. … but he is back to full speed. And it’s really good to see.”
Kelly Olynyk had 19 points and Jeff Green added 17 for Boston, which opened a 29-point lead at the end of the third quarter and coasted to the win.
More than an hour after the game ended, Rondo appeared in the locker room and said he was still improving.
“I wasn’t as explosive as I was in the past,” he said. “At certain points, I felt like I was skipping a beat. Other than that, it was fun being back out there. It was great to be back out there playing basketball again.”
Mirza Teletovic had 20 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench for the Nets, who trailed for all but a pair of free throws that opened the game. Joe Johnson scored 19 points for Brooklyn, and Deron Williams had 19 points and eight assists.
“We never really matched their energy,” said center Mason Plumlee, who picked up two fouls in the first quarter and two more in the third and played just 11 1-2 minutes.
Rondo said he didn’t decide to play until about an hour before the tipoff, after waking up from a pregame nap and feeling ready to play. Wearing a black brace on his left wrist and hand, Rondo showed no ill effects of the injury, dribbling with both hands and shooting 6 for 9 — better than his career 47.5 shooting percentage.
The Celtics led 101-72 at the end of the third quarter, but Brooklyn went on a 12-2 run to start the fourth and cut the deficit to 19. The Nets made it 112-97 on Johnson’s 3-pointer with 4 minutes left but couldn’t come any closer until the final seconds.
Rondo’s return on opening night stole some of the attention from ex-Celtic Kevin Garnett, who received a big cheer when he was introduced with the starting lineups and went on to score 10 points with six rebounds.
The 38-year-old Garnett played six seasons in Boston, leading the Celtics to the NBA finals twice and the team’s unprecedented 17th championship in 2008. He picked up a technical foul late in the game, prompting a “KG!” chant from the crowd.
After the game, Garnett walked through the hallway between the locker rooms, greeting the building staff and other people he knew from his time in Boston.
“It’s always great to come to back here. I love Beantown,” he said. “I’m always bleeding green.”
The Celtics opened a 21-12 lead in the first period and led by 10 with four minutes left in the second when they went on a 17-1 run to close the half. Marcus Thornton had eight points in the second quarter, and Rondo had four more assists to give him nine for the half.
(JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer)