BOSTON — Rajon Rondo was happy his long day was finally over.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired after a game before,” Rondo said after making a triumphant 29-point return to TD Garden as he led the Dallas Mavericks to a 119-101 victory over the Celtics. “It’s even hard to talk to you guys.”
Rondo, traded recently by the Celtics to the Mavs in exchange for three players, two draft picks and a trade exception, hit his first seven shots from the field, four of them 3-pointers, and scored 18 points in the first 13:32 of the game.
The enigmatic point guard went on to finish with the most points he’s scored in a game since Jan. 13, 2013.
Rondo was given a huge ovation in pregame introductions and a video tribute at the end of a 15-point first quarter, responding with a wave to the standing crowd. “I just tried to stay focused,” he said of his thoughts during the tribute. “I just wanted to stay locked in and listen to the coach in the huddle and obviously go out and say thank you to the fans.”
Rondo, who hit a career-high five 3-pointers, also had six rebounds and five assists. He was 12 of 19 from the floor, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, clearly shooting more than he did when he was the Celtics’ captain.
“Coach (Rick) Carlisle told me from Day 1, he wanted me to be
more aggressive,” said Rondo, who took 44 shots in the previous three games.
Asked if Rondo seemed like a different player, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “No, I told everybody that I believed in his shot making. And he shot it really well tonight.”
Dallas center Tyson Chandler, who grabbed 16 rebounds, described Rondo afterward as “a big game player.”
“He’s amazing. I was already impressed by his basketball IQ and knew he was a big-game player from witnessing him outside,” Chandler said. “But 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. He came in incredibly locked in.”
“It shows the type of player he is; he lives for moments like this.”
Before the game, Rondo thanked Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and managing partner Wyc Grousbeck for sending him to a great place.
“It’s a great situation,” he said after his new team’s shoot-around. “Danny and Wyc could have sent me anywhere. I think it showed the type of class that these guys have to send me to an organization (like Dallas).”
“I’ve done a lot for this organization and they didn’t just throw me on the backburner to any team. They put me in a situation where I can still excel and win a championship with this caliber team. I’m grateful for that situation.”
The Mavericks, who won their third straight to go to 24-10, opened a 20-point lead in the first half, but the Celtics (11-19) cut the deficit to seven with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
By the end of the quarter, the Mavericks, courtesy of a closing 13-0 run, had a 28-point lead and the home fans were booing the Celtics for lazy defense on the quarter-ending play.
The Celtics, who rallied from 31 points down to get to within one before losing in Dallas on Nov. 3, rode a hot streak by guard Avery Bradley to cut the lead to 10. But Rondo hit a jumper and made a key pass to keep his old team at arm’s length.
Bradley scored 17 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Guard Monta Ellis scored 22 points, forward Dirk Nowitzki added 17 points for the Mavs.
Forward Jeff Green scored 18 points and center Tyler Zeller had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Boston.
“I thought we have played in practice really well this week; I did not think we did that tonight,” said Stevens. “I’m encouraged by some of our strides; but I’ve said this before, it feels like a lot of step forward, step back; two steps forward, step back, those type of things. We just have to try to minimize those steps back.”