It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
On Sunday, the Celtics finally ended their six-game losing streak-- the longest since Kevin Garnett came to town. Not only that, but the victory came against the hated LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and the NBA Champion Miami Heat. Even better, the victory spoiled Ray Allen's return to Boston.
The Celtics showed energy. They crashed the boards for once. Paul Pierce had a triple-double. Jeff Green played over forty quality minutes off the bench. The home crowd was rewarded with a double-overtime victory.
Unbeknownst to the Celtics players was the news that Rajon Rondo would be lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in Friday's double-overtime loss in Atlanta. Yes, that was the game the Celtics had a 27-point lead in the second quarter. Yes, that was the game that never should have gone to overtime, nevermind double-overtime.
So now here we are. The Celtics are 21-23 a little over halfway through the season. They currently own the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, two and a half games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Is it time to write off the Celtics?
"You can write the obituary; I'm not," said Doc Rivers following the game.
And why should he? According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Celtics are 21-13 without Rondo the last four seasons. With Rondo, they are 145-95. That means with Rondo they've won 60.4% of their games. Without him, they've actually won a little more at 61.8%. And they did just beat the defending NBA champions without him.
Some have expressed disappointment in Rondo's season even prior to the injury. His assists are down and his on-court comportment has continued to be immature at times.
I've actually been pleased with his development this year. The problem is fans expected too much from Rondo. Four years ago, Rondo was the perfect player for this team. He had scorers -- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen-- that were still in the primes of their careers. His job was to distribute the ball to those players in perfect position for them to score.
Now, Ray Allen is gone. Pierce and Garnett are on the back nine of their careers. And what other reliable scorers do the Celtics have? Brandon Bass? No. Jason Terry? No. Jeff Green? No.
Rondo was expected to score more and that's just not his game. Not yet anyway. A couple of years ago, I would have said Rondo will never be an 18-20 point per game scorer. I've been encouraged by his development this year, however.
I was resigned to the idea that Rondo would never be a good three-point shooter, but I was hopeful he could improve his mid-range game. And that he has. According to basketball-reference. com, Rondo shot 50.8% from 16 feet to the 3-point line this season. In 2011-12, he shot 41.3% from the same range. In 2009-10, he shot only 35.2%.
Another thing that has always bothered me about Rondo is his free throw shooting. Even here, he has improved over the last three seasons. During the 2010-11 season, he shot 56.8% free throws. This year, he is at 64.5%. It is not coincidental that he was averaging a career-best 13.7 points per game this season prior to getting injured.
So make no mistake about it, the Celtics are a better team with Rondo on the court. But over half a season, can they survive the loss of Rondo? My answer is that they can't be much worse. Heck, as is, the Celtics were an under .500 team this season with Rondo. They were 20-23 entering Sunday's tilt with Miami.
I, actually, think the Celtics will have a .500 record or better the rest of the season. I think Rondo, at this stage of his career, may not be the perfect fit for this aging, nonathletic squad. This team could benefit from more of a scoring point guard.
Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Leandro Barbosa are all better shooters than Rondo. All three of those guards will see their playing time increase with Rondo's loss. Lee and Terry are the Celtics two best free-throw shooters (87.5%). Barbosa is a career 82% free-throw shooter.
All three of them hit three-pointers at a clip of 33% or better. Rondo was shooting 24% from three-point range.
All three of those players also bring some emotion to the game. The Celtics, in recent years, have fallen victim to looking like they are cruising, or merely going through the motions, until playoff time. Rondo, in particular, has been criticized for not bringing his A-game every night. That is unless it's a nationally televised game or if he's going against another big-name point guard.
Terry, Lee, and Barbosa have all struggled, at times, this season. Terry has had a nightmare month of January. Lee is starting to snap out of his season-long funk. And Barbosa, well, he just hasn't been given much of an opportunity.
The problem is that all three are considered more as shooting guards. Even when Terry was considered a point guard in his prime, he was always a shoot-first kind of point guard. It will be interesting to see how smooth the offense operates without Rondo. It'll be my biggest concern.
To that end, CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely suggests that Paul Pierce will be asked to play more of a point-forward role for Boston. It makes sense. Pierce tied his season-high with 10 assists on Sunday minus Rondo.
So should the Celtics now give up on the season? Should they just go ahead, trade Pierce and/or Garnett, and start building for the future? Anyone who has followed me knows that I was in favor of blowing up the team last season. Now, I say you have to ride this out. Terry can, and will, play better. Barbosa can contribute and bring energy. Lee and Avery Bradley can give opposing guards fits, defensively. All these players should embrace their opportunites to step up. I expect higher energy on the court going forward.
Nothing has really changed in my eyes. With or without Rondo, the Celtics need some big-man help in order to make any noise in the playoffs. They need rebounding and toughness. If the Celtics could have afforded to suffer an injury, it was in the back court.
Don't go writing off the Celtics just yet.