The Heat were in the building, Ray Allen was looking good in Miami red, and Boston was coming off a six-game losing streak where the C’s looked like they had clearly lost interest in learning how to play together or caring about winning. Before game time, Rajon Rondo was scratched from the lineup, and the situation got much, much worse when it was reported that he could have a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament — a wild speculation that was proved true within an hour or so.
Boston went from a contender to a shell of a team, and trade rumors began immediately, as the question was not if the Celtics would fold without Rondo, but when.
But a funny thing has happened since Rondo’s right ACL got that tear. The Celtics have taken off, beating not only the Heat but also winning six in a row. Boston made the Lakers look silly on Thursday night. Better yet, the team is playing together perhaps the best it has all season, with Doc Rivers seeming to have finally broken through in getting his team to move the ball, play to each other’s strengths and succeed no matter who is on the court.
Now, news comes that Rondo’s ACL tear may not be as bad as feared. A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast Sports Net reports that the tear is partial, meaning recovery could be faster, and Rondo could be back to playing sooner than anyone thought. Rondo’s agent is quoted as saying “we are very optimistic,” and that Rondo is continuing to get opinions before surgery to make sure he treats the injury correctly.
On its face, that seems like great news. Rondo is not hurt as bad, and the Celtics can expect him back sooner. Everything will really be clicking.
But it actually doesn’t mean much for Celtics fans. Rondo wasn’t going to be available until the beginning of next season anyway, so him being prepared a few weeks or months earlier isn’t going to make a huge difference, considering he fits comfortably within the ACL recovery window even if it is a big tear.
Others have pointed to the recovery times of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Rose, who are still fighting their way back from ACL injuries. In this case, Rubio and Rose have had a harder slog, as their tears came in the left leg (which they push off from to jump), and their games are styled more on sharp cuts than Rondo’s, as Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports notes. With more recovery time, the thinking goes, Rondo could escape their fate and be even stronger at the beginning of next season.
But the bottom line is that Rondo is gone for this season, and he will be back for next season, ready to play, as long as he gets his surgery, works hard on recovery and does his due diligence. There’s optimism that the injury isn’t as bad as it was thought, but that optimism doesn’t do much to adjust the big-picture timetable. At this point, it seems more like mental cheerleading than good news (although Kendrick Perkins says Rondo could use that mental cheerleading).
The Celtics knew all along that Rondo’s injury wasn’t as devastating as some ACL injuries, with Rondo playing through the initial tear and then walking around easily on it for a couple of days before the diagnosis. It’s an injury that has to be fixed, but it was never the devastating kind where people wondered whether he could ever come back.
So, Celtics fans, be encouraged: Rondo will return. But rather than leaping at every shred of good news, bury your head on Rondo front until October. That’s the only time when it will matter how bad the tear was, and how well he has come back.