The moment of truth has arrived for the Boston Celtics. No, that is not a failed attempt at wit to incorporate Paul Pierce’s nickname – it just so happens to be a very harsh reality with the news that Rajon Rondo will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
The ripple effect of Rondo’s absence now forces the Celtics into a position they had hoped to avoid for at least two years after re-signing Kevin Garnett this summer. Rebuild now or attempt to contend?
Common thinking is that a roster blow up is coming for the Celtics. But Doc Rivers told the media after Sunday’s win over the Miami Heat, “You can write the obituary, I’m not” in reference to whether or not Boston can still compete and make the playoffs without their All-Star guard.
In order for Doc’s resilient talk to become the defining moment of the Celtics season, five things must happen to keep Boston’s playoff hopes alive.
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5. The Celtics must understand there is no replacing Rondo. In theory, they probably already know this, but it is a philosophy that they have to fully understand and put into practice. Avery Bradley can’t expect to suddenly average 11 assists per game or even five or six. Players will need to step up, without a doubt, but Rondo is one of the few players in the league a team can’t replace by plugging in another into his spot. Think about the Chicago Bulls and their loss of Derrick Rose. Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson do not equal Rose, but their defense and depth is helping them survive an injury to their franchise player. Conversely Bradley, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa should not expect to equal Rondo.
Even if the Celtics make a trade for Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon or Tyreke Evans, none of those players should be expected to fill the void left by Rondo’s injury. Often guys try to do too much and play out of their own abilities when given extra minutes — or they are brought in via trade and end up doing more harm than good. Doc will have to remind all of his players to believe in the system (again, think: Chicago, Tom Thibodeau) and continue to play to their current strengths instead of trying to develop new ones on the fly.
4. The offense will have to run primarily through Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Rivers already alluded to the fact the Celtics will implore more dribble handle-offs with KG near the top of the key. This will allow Garnett to scan the floor and look for cutters or swing passes to the corners for jumpers. Garnett will also have to increase his post scoring because Pierce may be bringing the ball up a lot more in the next few weeks before the trade deadline.
Typically when Rondo misses time, Pierce becomes an assist machine. But he’s never had to do it for more than two weeks at a time. Pierce has looked slower this season, especially in recent weeks where he can’t seem to get his shot to fall even in his comfort areas on the floor. Playing the role of facilitator may do him some good and release some of the scoring pressure that seems to be weighing heavily on his shoulders. If he is even remotely successful, there is a good chance his scoring can become more efficient than the 36 percent shooting he shot over the Cs last 10 games. Opponents would have to start guarding him for more than just the shot.