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BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics will have their hands full without Rajon Rondo in Tuesday night’s Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks, but should still be confident without the NBA’s assist leader.
The Celtics went without Rondo for 13 games this season — either from injury, suspension or rest –and went 8-5 in those contests. The team has proved they can win games without key players this season, with the likes of Avery Bradley, Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma stepping up for important stretches.
Tuesday night will be no different, although the Celtics will need their stars to step up even more than their reserves.
Namely, Paul Pierce.
With Rondo out, Avery Bradley will get the start at point guard. However, don’t count on Bradley brining the ball up the court each time. Those duties will go to Pierce, who has put up some solid numbers as a “point-forward” throughout his career.
When Rondo missed eight games in late January with a sprained wrist – and while Bradley still found his offensive groove – Pierce ran the show, averaging 21 points and 7.5 assists. The Celtics went 6-2 in that stretch, with Pierce playing some of his best basketball of the season. In all, Pierce had three 10+ assist games with Rondo on the shelf, including a career-high 14 assist night two weeks ago against Orlando.
Maybe bringing the ball up the court is just what he needs to rebound from a rough Sunday night. Pierce shot just 5-for-19 from the floor and missed all six of his three-point attempts in Boston’s 84-73 Game 1 loss. He finished with just 12 points, and found his way to the free throw line just three times. Expect that to change Tuesday night.
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Having the ball more will give Pierce the chance to dictate the offense and get the shots he wants. Rather than settling for jumpers, look for Pierce to put his head down and attack the basket. The Celtics will have to slow the pace a bit with Pierce running the show, but his versatility will let them manage.
Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong for Boston in Game 1, from their horrific start to the goose egg from beyond the arc (the C’s finished the night 0-for-11). Now they have to overcome all of that, and the absence of the NBA’s best ball distributor.
Add in Rondo suspension with the likelihood that Ray Allen will miss another game with a lingering ankle injury, and the likes of Bradley, Pietrus and Keyon Dooling will have to make the most of their time on the court Tuesday night. Kevin Garnett will also have to pick up even more of the offense after a 20 point, 12 rebound showing in Game 1. But it will all come down to how Pierce runs the offense. This season, and every other time the 13-year vet has been called upon to do so, the Celtics have managed.
Despite his success though, let’s hope this is the last time the Celtics have to ask Pierce to fill in this postseason.