Sunday, January 27, 2013

Celtics lose Rondo, Beat Heat

The Celtics were Rondo's team, but now he won't be there to guide them 
The Boston Celtics won Sunday afternoon's game against the Miami Heat, but lost their star point guard for the rest of the year.

In what has already been a rollercoaster (read: frustrating) season for the Celtics, it was fitting that the team suffered a crushing loss while in the midst of securing its most exciting win of 2013.

Rajon Rondo sat out today's tilt on account of his hyperextended right knee, an injury he suffered during Boston's demoralizing double-overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. It didn't appear to be serious but his precautionary MRI revealed a torn ACL. Rondo will undergo surgery and is out indefinitely.

It goes without saying that losing Rondo is a devastating blow to the Celtics, especially on offense. Rondo is directly responsible for 17 made field goals per game (5.9 scored, 11.1 assisted), nearly half of his team's 36.7 field goals per game. That's a huge hole to fill, especially since Boston lacks a true backup point guard. Rondo's irreplaceable, but for the time being Doc Rivers will slide Avery Bradley (a shooting guard by trade) over to the point and use Courtney Lee at the two. Combo guard Jason Terry should also see an uptick in playing time, but all three must pick up the slack. Hopefully Danny Ainge can find a decent replacement on the trade market, but right now it doesn't look like there's much out there.

He can't afford to sit around and do nothing. It's hard to see Boston, 20-23 with Rondo and currently in the eighth seed, holding onto a playoff spot without their best player. The Philadelphia 76ers trail them by 2.5 games but expect Andrew Bynum to return before the All-Star Break. When healthy, he's one of the top centers in the game, the kind of impact player that can push Philly over the top and get them back to the postseason. Boston looks like a .500 team with each passing day and its schedule is only going to get harder. There's a rough road to hoe, and it doesn't look like Doc Rivers has the tools to meet the challenge.

But if today's game is any indication, the Celtics' season may not have gone up in smoke along with their point guard's. In a throwback display of pride and determination, Boston still managed to defeat the Heat 100-98 in a double-OT thriller. The win snapped a six game losing streak for the Celtics, who hadn't won an overtime game since December 12th.

After blowing a 27-point lead in Atlanta Friday night, Boston bounced back with a tenacious effort to kick off its four game homestand. The Green ground it out by getting back on D and digging in, preventing Miami from pushing the tempo and beating them with their athleticism. Celtics defenders filled the lanes, deflected passes and forced 20 turnovers. They couldn't stop LeBron James (who can?), but held red-hot Dwyane Wade to 6-of-20 shooting. They turned Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, and Shane Battier into non-factors. They even held their own on the boards despite allowing James and Chris Bosh, who's averaged 6.1 rebounds per game since December 13th, to inhale 16 boards apiece.

Boston's bench play keyed the victory as well, for Celtics reserves outscored Miami's bench 39-23. Jason Terry struggled with his shot (1-for-7 from beyond the arc) but still contributed 13 points, while Jeff Green dropped 11 in a whopping 42 minutes of court time. Leandro Barbosa chipped in nine points. The Heat got 21 points from Ray Allen but a whole lot of nothing from Battier, Joel Anthony, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis.

Speaking of Allen, Ray Ray made his much-anticipated return to the TD Garden after going Benedict Arnold on the Celtics last summer. Jesus Shuttlesworth teased the Garden crowd with a stellar performance that had to make Celtics fans wonder why Danny Ainge ever let him leave. The timeless sharpshooter logged more than 38 minutes off the bench and rained 21 points through the Garden nets, proving he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. His signature highlight was the corner three he buried to trim Boston's lead to one with 25 seconds remaining in regulation, the kind of clutch shot that endeared him to Celtics fans before he turned to the dark side.

The other members of Boston's new Big Three also played well. Paul Pierce gritted his way through 49 minutes to notch a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Garnett enjoyed his tenth double-double of the season by amassing 24 points and 11 boards. Both needed to step up with Rondo out, and they certainly rose to the occasion. They must sustain that high level of play in the second half if Boston is going to secure a postseason berth.

The Celtics have a couple days off to catch their breath before they resume play again on Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings. Hopefully 48 minutes will be enough to decide that game, because if the Celtics play any more overtime games they're not going to make it to the All-Star Break, much less the playoffs.

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