It’s a refrain Celtics coach Doc Rivers has offered plenty of times before, but it has another level of importance at this point in the season, when the Celtics are not only 21-23 but are also suddenly without point guard Rajon Rondo.
“I still like our team,” Rivers said Sunday after the C’s gutted out a double-overtime win against the Heat in the same window during which they lost Rondo. “Obviously, [it's] a blow. It’s a huge blow for us.”
Rondo was more than the usual triple-double machine for the Celtics this year. He was also arguably the team’s MVP, and its newly anointed leader as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett looked to him to bring together a new collection of players. With Rondo already working so hard and for so many minutes, the obvious conclusion with him gone is that the C’s will only recede further.
But Rivers isn’t buying that argument. While newcomers Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, as well as Jeff Green, who is new to playing time but not to the team, needed Rondo to incorporate them into the offense, there’s good reason to think that these players may be able to show their skills more effectively in different setups. Pierce has also been on and off all season, and Garnett and back-from-injury Avery Bradley could both contribute more.
So, while Rondo is a key piece in getting a certain rendition of this team going, without him, the Celtics could find new ways to succeed.
“Listen, when something like this happens, we’ll find someone that’s already in our locker room that’s going to play terrific,” Rivers said. “And I have no idea who it is. [On Sunday] it was [Leandro Barbosa] and the team [as a whole]. And that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Without the Celtics knowing it, Sunday was actually a great test for what the team could be in the second half of the season. With Rondo sidelined before the game, Boston pulled together one of its best team performances of the year against a great Heat squad.
Pierce had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, Garnett contributed 24 points and 11 rebounds, Terry scored 13 points, and Green put up 11. Five other Celtics players scored, meaning every Boston player who logged more than three minutes was in the points column.
Barbosa had nine points and four assists, putting him in place to help fill Rondo’s role.
“Barbosa has been clamoring for minutes, and every time he’s gotten them, he’s done good things,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Sunday, according to ESPN.
Rivers sees a way past this hurdle.
“You can write the obituary. I’m not,” Rivers said, according to ESPN. “You can go ahead, but I’m not. We won [Sunday] and so, the way I look at it is, we’re going to stay in there. In my opinion, we’re going nowhere.”
The Celtics could get a hand from a weaker Eastern Conference, although that will require them shoring up their 7-14 road record and starting to shut down sub-.500 teams. But with only a half-dozen games separating them from the leaders in the conference, a little production from a team that has talent at every spot — sans that point guard hole — could go a long way.