BOSTON — Let’s be honest. Sports crowds do not always have a complete understanding of what is going on. They will loudly cheer a basket by the home team even when the shot was taken several seconds after a whistle was blown, or they will have a conniption when a batter slugs a high fly ball, thinking home run, when the can o’ corn has no chance of leaving the infield.
Put enough like-minded fans together in one place and give them a few beverages, and paying attention to all the pesky details in the game can get hastily overshadowed.
With four minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the third quarter on Wednesday, however, the crowd at the TD Garden knew exactly what was going on. They knew that Rajon Rondo was hobbling, and they knew that was not good.
When Rondo left the game and then the bench, walking to the locker room with head athletic trainer Ed Lacerte, the Celtics were left to consider life without their All-Star point guard. Rondo missed the final 16:55 of Boston’s 98-93 win, which was made possible in part by Leandro Barbosa filling in ably off the bench. Rondo’s absence is a possibility the Celtics prepared for in the offseason, when they added combo guards Jason Terry and Courtney Lee during the summer and then Barbosa two weeks before the season. All three players can man the point in stretches, giving head coach Doc Rivers more options than he had at the position last season.
“It’s going to happen,” Rivers said. “He’s not going to play all 82. I doubt it. It’d be nice, but you know how I think. Somebody has to step up and we have to figure it out, and [Wednesday] was a great example of that. We had other options.”
Rivers had “no idea” how Rondo’s injury, which was described as a rolled right ankle, would affect his status for Thursday’s game in Brooklyn. Rondo did not speak to the media after the game, nor was it clear what treatment he received before he returned to the bench to watch his team play in the fourth quarter.
Barbosa scored 16 points while Lee contributed several key defensive and hustle plays, but the most crucial stat for the makeshift backcourt was the nine team turnovers. In a game that saw the Celtics outrebounded 48-33, Boston could not afford to give up extra possessions to the physical Jazz, who received double-doubles from Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and nearly a third from Derrick Favors, who fell one rebound short.
The Celtics spent some time without Rondo last season after he drew a two-game suspension for tossing a ball at referee Sean Wright. The Celtics lost both games, but there was a silver lining. The double-digit losses to the Mavericks and Thunder prompted Rivers to make a drastic lineup change in starting Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass together full-time, and once Rondo returned the Celtics won five straight games and 24 out of 34 after the All-Star break.
Rivers and the Celtics hope Rondo does not miss the same number of games, or any games, due to his ankle injury. In the event he does, they hope they have provided enough insurance, because anyone who pays attention knows how important Rondo is to the Celtics.