With J.R. Giddens reportedly set to receive his first starting gig in the NBA tonight against the Raptors in the wake of Rajon Rondo's left hamstring injury that will keep him out, it's safe to say this Celtics team has become a shell of the one that started the season with championship aspirations. That's not a knock on Giddens, but based on the rotation Doc Rivers employed when Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Marquis Daniels were healthy, Giddens starting is a testament to just how banged up this group now is.
While it's difficult to ever get used to the idea of Pierce being out of the lineup, we've come to terms with the reality over the course of the current three-game losing streak. And life without Garnett, while miserable at times, is a scenario we were forced to stomach last season and the memories of last year's Garnett-less playoff run help steer us through his current absence.
But life without Rajon Rondo could be something of a shock to the system. For the past two and a half seasons, his teammates, his admirers and other NBA personnel proclaimed Rondo to be the one player that the Celtics could not replace. As the initial force behind the Celtics offense and the main distributor, his value to the team is arguably unmatched. Perhaps others can pick up the scoring slack in Pierce's absence. Perhaps Tony Allen can fill the void left by Daniels' departure. Perhaps Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis can shoulder some of the rebounding load typically carried off by Garnett.
But who is capable of shouldering the immense weight that is the transcendent game of Rajon Rondo?
The true and simple answer is: no one. Rondo simply does too much for any one single player to match his immense production. Could someone step in and score as much as Rondo? Probably. But could that same person also initiate the offense and dish out 9 or 10+ assists? Unlikely. Could that same person also crash the boards amongst hoards of seven-footers and pull down close to double-digit rebounds? Again, unlikely. And then of course, there's the defense. Could that same player swipe the ball away from opposing players at a league-leading rate? Most likely not (otherwise we would have seen such a player garner more playing time by now. Or unless Lester Hudson just needs more of a chance...Just kidding. That's just wishful thinking).
For this is not the offensively hesitant Rondo of games past, but the assertive one who now imposes his will in nearly every aspect of the game. Over the last four contests, Rondo's averages of 20.0 points, 4.75 rebounds, 9.25 assists and 2.25 steals per game are quite impressive and exemplify his aggressiveness over the course of the Boston's latest road trip.
"He has his own talent," Butler said. "He's fast; he's athletic, good skills guy; can really pass the ball and put pressure on defense. He's in a league of his own."
Doc Rivers even sang Rondo's praises after the Celtics were blown out in Phoenix. Rondo was battling through his sore left hamstring, but even with the limitation, he still showed flashes of dominance.
"I was proud of him because he’s at the level now where he can play on one leg and dominate the game, and I thought he did that at times," said Celts coach Doc Rivers. "He’s really assuming a role of leadership on this team, and I’m probably as proud of him as any player in a long time because he’s come a long way. I’m very happy for him."
It's bad enough losing Rondo when the Big Three are intact. But the situation becomes somewhat dire when the reality sets in that Tony Allen could be the Celtics' starting point guard tonight. There are two bright sides to this, though: First, the Raptors are still a beatable team, even with the Celtics missing so many players. And second, Rondo's injury doesn't appear to be serious, and he'll hopefully make a return to the lineup next Wednesday against the Miami Heat. But let's see how this team functions in his absence - albeit a mercifully brief one. Keep an eye on how the offense is dictated, how many points the C's score in the paint, how many total assists and steals the team wracks up and keep your other eye on Jose Calderon's numbers. A short glance at Rondo's true value to this team could very well come full circle tonight.