Rondo, sidelined since suffering a sprained left ankle in the fourth quarter of a win over the New York Knicks on Dec. 15, warmed up on the court before the game, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he's simply not ready to return to action yet.
The Celtics had hoped Rondo could be back on the floor for Friday's showdown with Chris Paul and the Hornets, but they have exercised great caution with all of their injured players this season. Combined with the absence of Kevin Garnett (strained calf) and Kendrick Perkins (knee), Boston is now playing without three starters from its familiar starting five.
"He's just not ready; he's close, though," said Rivers before the game. "He's getting better. He'll be back soon, maybe the next game or game after, we just don't know yet. But he'll be back soon."
After the game, Rondo deemed himself "day-to-day" and said he might be able to play Sunday in Toronto, before cautioning that his return might have to wait until Monday against Minnesota, or as far as out as next Saturday's tilt in Chicago.
Rondo tested himself before the game by playing one-on-one, after which he and the Celtics' training staff determined he wasn't game-ready yet. He hasn't lost his sense of humor, however. When asked what limitations he was experiencing, he quipped, "Just dunking."
Added a more serious Rondo: "No setback; I tried to play one-on-one today, but I wasn't able to do what I normally do."
Rondo admitted it's tough watching from the sideline, but noted there's nothing that says his addition would have been enough to tilt the scale in Boston's favor.
"It is what it is," said Rondo. "They won some games without me, too. That's the NBA. Nothing says that, if I played, we'd win or lose some games, too. The hardest thing is, the Detroit game and this game, we should have won. With me, without me; with KG, without him, we should have won these two games."
Before the game Rivers admitted the team is in survival mode, but didn't want to hear anyone feeling sorry for themselves.
"It's tough, but we have to make do," said Rivers. "I told our guys that today, we don't need anyone feeling sorry for us. ... We really don't need that."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.