Just after losing star point guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics suffered another blow—losing rookie Jared Sullinger to back surgery for the year. While it may seem clear to some that it was finally time to blow the team up, Boston started playing some of its best basketball of the year without Rondo and Sullinger. As trade rumors swirled, they Celtics continued to play hard. Look through to see what else the Celtics could do with the team from here on out. Next
Make do without Rondo
The loss of point guard Rajon Rondo for the rest of the season has Celtics fans everywhere wondering where the Celtics go from here. Rondo was the team's leader on the court, and the initial reaction of many was Rondo’s knee injury effectively ended the Celtics’ chances of playing for a title in 2013. Rondo, who leads the NBA in assists average at 11.1, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Friday vs the Hawks, and will need surgery to repair it. While he may be lost for the season, not all is lost for the Celtics. Others will need to step up. Next
Blow it up?
A common refrain following the news of injuries to Rondo and Sullinger was that this makes it the perfect time for the Celtics to set an entirely new course, possibly by trading key veterans for rising stars or draft picks. Aging stars like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could bring top-dollar for a team interested in a deep playoff run but lacking one final piece.
But team president Danny Ainge has said he won’t make a deal just to make a trade, and there are signs the Celtics aren’t willing to give up hope just yet, from the comments of the players to their actions on the court, especially after Sunday’s win over the defending NBA champions with Rondo on the sideline.
Go for it
Kevin Garnett played inspired basketball during last year’s playoffs, and Paul Pierce has routinely filled a void with dominant performances at other times when Rondo has been out, including his four suspensions over the last year.
If Pierce and Garnett are not dealt away in a “blow it up” scenario, then why not go for it without Rondo? Other pieces (Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, or Leandro Barbosa, etc.) can be shipped out for short-term rentals, and if coach Doc Rivers manages minutes right, he’ll be able to maximize what he gets from the remaining Big Two while not buring them out.
Rivers, for one, seems like he wants to make a run.
“You can write the obituary. I’m not,” Rivers said after the Celtics beat the Heat on Sunday. “The way I look at it is, we’re going to stay in there.” Next
Can they even make the playoffs?
Putting aside the big-picture scenarios, the very real issue of whether the Celtics are a playoff team must be addressed. They are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference, but before Sunday’s victory had lost six in a row.
At 21-23, the Celtics are the only team “in” the playoffs right now with a losing record. They’ve shown signs of being able to get it together—a six-game win streak preceded the losing streak— but how well they can rally without Rondo remains to be seen. Rondo's minutes alone are difficult to replace—he was averaging 37.4 minutes a game, by far the most of any Celtic.
A long West Coast trip awaits in February, and games vs. the Lakers, Thunder, Mavs, Grizzlies, and Knicks loom as well. But the Celtics were a question mark for most of last season until they became one of the league’s best teams from March to June. And the C’s have beaten two of the NBA’s best teams this season, the Heat and the Knicks, without Rondo in the lineup. Next
Who plays point guard now?
According to the Globe’s Gary Washburn, Doc Rivers wasn’t certain about the direction the team would take at the position going forward. Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa, and Jason Terry will get the initial call. Former Celtic Keyon Dooling also said he would consider a comeback at age 32, but then declined.
“When something like this happens, we’ll find someone that’s already in our locker room that’s going to play terrific, and I have no idea who it is,” Rivers said.
Most prior Celtics trade talk centered on acquiring a big man. But now the focus changes, and Rivers wasn’t sure if the team would look for a free agent or trade fit. As teams inquire about players like Pierce, what they have to offer the Celtics in the backcourt could be essential to making something happen.
Adopt an “us vs. them” mentality
While the Celtics, to a man, were dismayed by the Rondo injury news, they also tend to do well when faced with adversity. They were essentially written off several times last season, yet the Celtics didn’t go down for good until the final game of the conference finals.
Doc Rivers doesn’t want the “obituary” written just yet. And Jeff Green welcomes the challenge.
“Yeah, we love being underdogs,” Green said. “People have counted us out already, even when we had Rondo. We can’t worry about what people have to say. People are always going to have an opinion. But the only people out there playing are the guys in this locker room. We’ll pull together.” Next
Find more ‘grit”
Along the line of embracing the underdog role, Paul Pierce echoed a sentiment Kevin Garnett made famous in last season’s playoffs when he was talking about the Celtics’ win over the Heat Sunday.
“This game tonight was won with our grit,” Pierce said.
Perhaps he was referring to the same “grit” Garnett mentioned when he was asked to describe how the Celtics won a particular playoff game and he responded “with grit and balls.” There’s no doubt the Celtics have it and can tap into it, as evidenced by victories over the Thunder, Nets, and Knicks.
But equally mysterious are losses to the Kings, Hornets, and Pistons. Did the grit run dry those days?
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