Take the captain and leading scorer off of any team and they'll have trouble maintaining whatever momentum they had before that point. Now we head into the much anticipated showdown with the Magic on Christmas without The Truth and things don't get much easier after that. Celtics Hub points out:
Right now, the Celtics are easily entering their toughest stretch of schedule this year.
Let's take a look at how their next 8 games shake out over the next 2 and a half weeks.
@ LA Clippers
@ Golden State
Granted, this team has been oddly effective on the road this year (12 - 1 as opposed to 10 - 4 at home). But to count on that continuing without Paul is perhaps asking too much. Orlando, Phoenix, and Atlanta are some of the best teams in the league this year so far. The other teams aren't as good, but the team will only be home once over that stretch. It won't be an easy 2 weeks.
And that assumes that it will be two weeks. This via Yahoo!
"You're always concerned when someone is hurt," Ainge said. "But hopefully, they took care of it and it's all done. ...We expect Paul to be fine.
"It anybody's guess when he will return. I don't know. Maybe sooner rather than later."
Danny was probably trying to be reassuring when he said that, but the vagueness does nothing to quiet that little voice that was talking to me this morning.
So how do we fill the gaping hole left by Pierce? With scotch tape and paper clips it appears.
Marquis Daniels would be the best solution, but he is likely out till February with an injury of his own. Don't expect the team to look for free agent pickups. Via Gary Washburn's twitter:
Celtics owner Grousbeck said team will not pursue player to replace Pierce. "We've got a full roster. We're not going to cut anybody."
I'm sure Ainge will continue to monitor the trade market, but once again, he likely won't feel pressured into making any sort of deal that he wouldn't have made in the offseason. If a good deal presents itself, great. Otherwise, they'll go with what they've got.
So what have they got left? Well, the most logical guy to step up into the starting lineup is Tony Allen. Pause for a moment and reflect on how insane that statement would have sounded 3 weeks ago.
But give Tony credit. He's played solid defense, he's attacked the rim, and he's added needed hustle and athleticism to our bench. He's always played better when he was on the court for longer stretches, and he'll get that opportunity now. Perhaps being surrounded by the starters will limit the mistakes and miscues that he's become famous for.
However, just like Tony wasn't asked to fill James Posey's shoes last year, he's not going to be expected to replace Pierce's minutes or production. The rest of the starters need to score more and just about everyone on the bench needs to take a bigger chunk of the responsibility for each win.
I expect to see Scalabrine play the bulk of minutes off the bench at the 3 with Shelden Williams perhaps taking a larger role backing up Garnett. Big Baby is attempting to return to the team sometime on the upcoming road trip, but I haven't heard a definite date yet. Eddie House can play a little bit more if Doc wants to experiment with smallish lineups. And of course all of this assumes that Garnett's injury really is minor and he'll be in the lineup during the trip. We might even see a little more of Giddens and Walker, though don't count on Doc leaning heavily on them.
Stepping back a little here, even if the team falls on its face on Christmas and sputters through a rough road trip, it won't exactly mark the end of their title hopes. They might fall a bit off the pace in the home court race. They might even drop a couple of seeds. But I'm a lot less concerned with the team being healthy in December than May and June.
You can bet that this team isn't going to accept fate and mail in the next 2 weeks or so. They ran off an impressive stretch of wins in Garnett's absence last year and they have the kind of pride that could carry them through another such stretch this year.
The underlying concern, however, is the wear and tear the extra burden will put on Garnett, Ray Allen, and the rest of the team. You could tell in the playoffs that Paul and Ray were worn down from carrying the team on their shoulders for the stretch run. Garnett's knee shouldn't be given any additional burdens and we don't want to see Ray lose the lift in his legs again. It will be up to Doc to maintain the rest and health of those two guys, even if it means risking a loss here or there.
Finally, I fully expect Rajon Rondo to take an even bigger role in the offense. He stepped up last year with KG out and he's smart enough to know when the team needs more scoring. My guess is that he'll call his own number more often.
Watching the Celtics play without Paul Pierce will be an odd, uncomfortable feeling. Paul has become such a huge part of the franchise that his presence will be ubiquitous in its absence. But the team will rally around each other and move forward. Some guys will step up, some won't. We'll lose some games we wouldn't normally lose, but they will get through this.