When news broke Sunday that Rajon Rondo would be lost for the season, many Celts fans mourned the loss like it was a death in their family. Rondo is the Celtics best player, without a doubt, and in his absence the Green will have a tough time adjusting to missing their best playmaker.
But all is not lost with the C’s. The Rondo injury hurts, but the fact is that the Celts have enough talent to still make things interesting in the Eastern Conference. If Boston were in the Western Conference, they would certainly have trouble making the playoffs, but since they play in a very weak conference, a 5 or 6 seed is not out of the realm of possibility.
Paul Pierce thrives with the ball in his hand and will be asked to create more in the point guard role. It’s no coincidence that Pierce’s best two games of the year are without Rondo in the lineup. Pierce had a triple-double Sunday (17 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists) as well as 23 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in their win earlier in the month at Madison Square Garden versus the Knicks. Both wins were arguably the most impressive victories of what has been a disappointing season for the Celtics.
When Rondo was suspended for Game 2 of the C’s playoff series against Atlanta last season, the Celtics’ captain responded with 36 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists. The game may have been the best all-around performance of Pierce’s career.
Asking Pierce to take over the point guard duties will be a lot to ask of a 35 year-old guy who is struggling to find his shot this season. Pierce is shooting a dismal 41% from the floor and hasn’t found the touch from beyond the arc, only converting on 35% of his attempts from long range.
With Rondo out though, Pierce can concentrate more on getting others involved, which will lead to his game getting into a better flow. It has been tough to watch Pierce at times this season. His bread and butter isn’t coming off screens, something he has been forced to do this year since the departure of Ray Allen.
Other players that will need to step up include Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and Jason Terry. Bradley should be asked to play some point, something he showed he wasn’t accustomed to earlier in his career. Lee will need to continue his steady play, which should mean a starting gig, unless the Celts can make a move that would put Lee back on the bench.
Leanrdo Barbosa can also play some point guard, but you have to wonder how confident coach Doc Rivers will be playing Barbosa and Terry at the same time. Both players are a liability at the defensive end.
Terry may benefit the most from a lack of Rondo. The Jet has only averaged 8 shot attempts per game this season, compared to the 13 he averaged in his last three seasons in Dallas. The shots will certainly be there for Terry now more than ever. Terry’s career was built off pick and rolls with Dirk Nowtizki. It will be interesting to see if Terry and Pierce can find some chemistry in the pick and roll game now that their offense should be even more simplified.
With the added workload on Terry’s plate you have to believe he realizes this is the best time to make up for his poor performance during the first half of the year. If Terry can show a glimmer of what made Celtics’ Faithful so happy to welcome him to town, the Celtics offense should be able to improve from their offense which is ranked 21st in the NBA this season.
So before Celts fans begin to press their suits for the funeral of this exciting era in Boston basketball, let’s wait to see how this group can come together in the face of adversity. The NBA trade deadline is February 21st, so the C’s have time to see what kind of a team they have without Rondo. They have many options to ponder, including trading Paul Pierce, the most important basketball player in this town since Larry Bird.
A Pierce trade wouldn’t bring back equal value so expect Danny Ainge and the Celts to make minor adjustments to the team such as adding old friend Keyon Dooling to the active roster. Dooling was signed by the Celtics this summer before opting to retire.