[Ed. Note: Please welcome Jay King to the CelticsBlog staff of authors. You can see more of his past work on CelticsTown.com]
When Rajon Rondo complained of a sore hamstring last night, how did Doc Rivers respond? By playing him 44:30, of course. Nate Robinson was injured and couldn't play, so Rivers felt like he had no choice.
"I left Rondo in because Nate's foot was hurting," Rivers told CSNNE. But Rondo wasn't feeling 100%, either.
"He [Rondo] was worried that if he came out, he couldn't return," Rivers continued. "So the injury thing is really starting to creep up on us. It is what it is."
I'm no doctor, and I'm certainly not an NBA-level coach, but my rule of thumb regarding injuries would be this: if my star player told me he was hurt enough he wouldn't be able to return to a game, that would be when I immediately removed him from said game for good. It wouldn't even matter if my star had a viable backup or not. No need to risk further injury, right? Especially in a mostly meaningless December game.
Had the Celtics subbed Rondo out, they could have tried a couple of different point guards. Paul Pierce could have handled the duties (as he did once earlier this season, in Rondo's absence), or Marquis Daniels (last year's backup point guard) could have sufficed.
There was also one guard sitting on the bench, finally healthy, who could use some playing time:
By now, we all know Rivers' aversion to playing rookies. With the way Rivers keeps first-year players stapled to the bench, one gets the feeling a rookie Michael Jordan would have had difficulty cracking Rivers' rotation. I can imagine their conversation now: "Sorry, Michael. You just don't possess enough knowledge of our defensive schemes. Once you gain a little more experience in practice, I'll consider inserting you into a game. Right now, it's just too risky."
I'm not at all comparing Avery Bradley to Michael Jordan. That would be like comparing Space Jam to Hoosiers. But Rivers' mistrust of rookies runs deep, and Bradley is the latest to be affected by it. Part of me understands Rivers' decision to leave Bradley on the bench -- after missing almost every practice the Celtics have held, Bradley is behind. He's also learning a position he doesn't play naturally, which only compounds the difficulty.
At some point, still, there comes a time when Rivers should just throw the rookie into the fire. "At some point," if you ask me, should be now. Both Celtics point guards are hurting and Robinson might be out for a little while. (He said yesterday his pain feels like plantar fasciitis, though it's not. Rondo has been able to play through plantar fasciitis, but the pain associated with the foot ailment is sharp.) Not only are both point guards bothered by injuries, but Delonte West's injury already left the Celtics thin at the guard position. With Robinson potentially joining West in street clothes, minutes should be available.
Yesterday, Rivers chose to give those extra minutes to Rondo. Yes, let's play our hobbled star 45 minutes! Who cares if he has plantar fasciitis and a sore hamstring? Who cares if playing on the hamstring could potentially damage it further? This is an early-December game! It's a must-win!
If Robinson is still hurt on Friday, why not offer his minutes to Bradley? If the rook screws up, what's the worst thing that happens? An early-season loss to the Chicago Bulls? Not the end of the world. On the other hand, offering Bradley experience now could pay off serious dividends in the future. With quickness to burn and all the athleticism a point guard could ever need, Bradley possesses heaps of potential. He needs some work to refine some raw areas of his game, for sure.
But if Bradley wastes away on the bench all season, it's difficult to imagine his raw talent becoming any more polished. As Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe last week, "The only way he’ll grow as a player is with the opportunity to play. And there’s always growing pains for coaches playing young players, but at some point he needs the chance."
Why not now?