If anyone came out looking like a bad guy in the story line involving planned tributes for Paul Pierce and Isaiah Thomas, it was Pierce, who said he did not want to share the spotlight with Thomas in any way on the day the Celtics were retiring his No. 34 jersey. However, don’t tell that to Rajon Rondo, who showed once again Wednesday that he has Pierce’s back — by hitting Thomas in the face several times during a game.
At least, that was how Thomas told it after his Lakers lost to Rondo’s Pelicans, 139-117. Both players were ejected from the game in the first quarter after tangling a few times, which led, in part, to Los Angeles Coach Luke Walton getting tossed in the second quarter.
Rondo chose not to speak with reporters following the game, leaving it to Thomas to explain that his antagonist “kept bringing the tribute up, when I was the one that shut the tribute down.” Thomas was referring to his request that Boston not follow through on its “gracious offer to play a video tribute” last week to his two-plus years there, which ended when the Celtics traded him in the offseason to Cleveland, because the conflict with Pierce had “caused some controversy.”
As it turned out, the entire episode, which included ESPN’s Jalen Rose calling Pierce “petty” on “NBA Countdown,” was rendered moot when the Cavaliers, with whom Thomas had been set to visit Boston, traded him to the Lakers. However, Rondo, who took advantage of a Pelicans off-day to attend the ceremony honoring Pierce, was not about to let bygones be bygones.
Rondo, who spent his first eight-plus seasons in Boston and helped Pierce win an NBA title in 2008 before bouncing around the league, had expressed disdain in January for the notion that the Celtics would want to honor Thomas at all. “What has he done?” Rondo asked of Thomas (via NBA reporter Bill Doyle), and when told the latter had led Boston to the 2017 conference finals, he scoffed, “Oh, that’s what we celebrate around here?”
“He already had his agenda written down right when I checked into the game. It was obvious,” Thomas said Wednesday of Rondo (via ESPN). “He picked me up full court, trying to be physical. … It was obvious what was going on. He was being too aggressive for whatever reason, and he also hit me in the face three times.
“At some point, as a human, if no one is going to protect me, I got to protect myself, and that is when I spoke up and got upset,” Thomas continued. “I hope the NBA figures something out with that, because it was wrong for me to be ejected.”
Asked what else might have led to Rondo’s aggression, Thomas suggested a playoff series win last year for his Celtics over the Bulls, for whom Rondo played at the time. However, he added, “Nothing should’ve made that escalate like it did.”
Thomas told reporters that he was taken aback but “laughed it off” when Rondo chimed in last month on the back-and-forth over the video tribute. “Everybody who’s been on a team for a while has gotten a video tribute,” he said. “Patrick Beverley got one in Houston. Chris Paul got one with the Clippers. It’s like, they didn’t win no championship, but it’s just the respect thing.”
Walton was told to leave after strenuously objecting to a technical foul call against the Lakers’ Kyle Juzma, and he said afterward he was already agitated because he felt Rondo had been allowed to goad Thomas into a response that gave the officials an excuse to eject both players.
Rondo, who was traded from the Celtics to the Mavericks during the 2014-15 season before moving on to stints in Sacramento, Chicago and New Orleans, has long made it clear that he pines for his Boston glory days. Last year, after then-Bulls Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler publicly criticized their team, Rondo posted a photo to Instagram showing him with Pierce and Kevin Garnett in Celtics uniforms and added a lengthy caption that began, “My vets would never go to the media.”
“My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it,” Rondo added in his caption. “They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off.”
In contrast to his affection for Pierce and Garnett, Rondo has also made it clear that he has no love for former Celtics teammate Ray Allen, who defected from Boston in 2012 for the rival Heat. Apparently Thomas has joined Allen on Rondo’s enemies list, which could make March 22 a date to circle on the ol’ NBA calendar — that’s when the Lakers and Pelicans are set to square off again.
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