ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 01: Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics reacts to a call in front of Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on April 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Rajon Rondo will not be playing a single second for the Celtics in tonight's crucial game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks . Not only is he the best player on the team, Rondo is the only true point guard on this Boston Celtic roster. Avery Bradley will move over from shooting guard to start at the point while Mickael Pietrus will hop into the starting two-guard spot. Having Ray Allen come back tonight would be a serious plus, but unless his bone spur stricken ankle somehow miraculously mends by then, this possibility remains in doubt. In only the second game of the NBA playoffs, down 1-0 in year five of a supposed three year window, the Boston Celtics will be looking adversity straight in the eye without two of their stars.
Without Rondo this season, the Celtics have fared somewhat well winning 8 of these 13 respective games. Avery Bradley's defensive attack on opponents' point guards is certainly part of the reason why, but without Rondo's league leading 11.7 assists per game, how were the Celtics able to win 62% of these games? From an offensive standpoint, surprisingly, the answer begins with Paul and ends in Pierce. With Rondo on the bench, Paul Pierce has acted as a point forward in a way we've never seen before. Sure we've seen Paul handle the ball and run an offense many times during his miraculous 14 seasons in Boston, but this comes as a shoot first, shoot second, pass third type of player. We've never witnessed Paul distribute the ball the way he has this year in this sort of role. The numbers are staggering.
Omitting the Miami win last week where he only played 18 minutes because Doc was resting his stars, Paul has averaged 7.63 assists per game without Rondo in the lineup, up from his season and career averages of 4.5 and 3.8. Yes, Paul has doubled his career assist average this season when Rondo has been has been absent. These 7.63 APG would be good for 9th in the NBA this season trailing outside MVP candidate Tony Parker by the slightest margin of 0.07 APG. When the Celtics were victorious in these games, the numbers only get better: Paul averaged 9 assists in these 7 contests. Offensively, is there any doubt who will be Rondo's true replacement tonight?
Without Rondo, Pierce certainly cannot do some of the things he does best off of the ball cutting to the basket and scoring in the post, but beggars can't be choosers at this point of the year. Pierce will still be able to find his points as he's proven that not only can he still score without Rondo, he can score even more. Averaging 19.4 points this season, Pierce has put up 22.18 PPG without Rondo on the floor (again omitting last week's Miami win.) This figure, 22.18 PPG, is an average Pierce hasn't seen since KG and Ray joined the team in 07-08. In wins, this number grows to 24.43. To make things a little more clearly, the Celtics have needed a 34 year old Pierce to average 24.43 points and 9 assists to win without Rondo this season. No pressure Paul.
Paul Pierce's role as a point forward both scoring and distributing is crucial, but his teammates need to do something that did not happen on Sunday: make shots. It was hard to watch each jump shot clank off the rim while the misses just kept coming. This Celtic team is supposedly the best jump shooting team in the NBA by a wide-margin and they didn't hit a single 3 on Sunday. Still, the Celtics gave the Hawks a serious run for their money, but tonight they'll be without Rondo.
Paul Pierce will be in this lineup and for the Celtics to come away with a victory, evidence suggests that he will have to come up with a dominating performance. Whether the Celtics win or lose tonight, Paul Pierce is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the greatest Boston athletes of all time next to the likes of Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Ted Williams, and Tom Brady. Tonight's game is on you Paul, and if you get it, your legend may grow. With a loss, your chances of another title dwindle while your time in Boston very well could end after the series. One thing is certain: the ball will be in your hands Paul, and without Rondo, it will be up to you to carry this team on your back one last time. The truth will be unleashed tonight. Let's just hope this truth takes place metaphorically based on the actions of a man in green wearing #34... Paul Pierce.