Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
How many times have we seen the Nobody Believes in Us card played? It's about to be played again.
The rest of the season doesn't need to be cancelled.
The truth is that even though Rondo is truly a special talent capable of things very few other players are, the Celts can still compete without him, at least in the short term.
Think about it like this: When a team fires its coach, either because it's been underperforming, the GM didn't hire him, there's a conflict between him and the star player or what have you, more often than not, there's a surge, an injection of adrenalin, a prolonged moment of humility and pride.
The players want everyone to know it wasn't them. They aren't the reason the man in charge is no longer. So they play their asses off for a time, maybe even over their heads. And the team goes on a mini-run.
We've seen it a couple of times already this season, both in Milwaukee and, in a major way, in Brooklyn (though not in L.A., where the multitude of injuries and organization-wide issues have been too much to overcome regardless of whether Mike D'Antoni, Phil Jackson or the Tooth Fairy was hired as head coach). Players rally around each other. It's a shot in the arm more often than not.
Similar situations often unfold when star players go down. With the notable exception of last year's Chicago Bulls, who were so flattened by Derrick Rose's knee injury and the timing of it, they couldn't muster up the necessary oomph to beat the eighth-seeded 76ers in a first-round playoff series, teams frequently react to stars and leaders going down like they have something to prove.
Oh, you think we're dead because one guy isn't here anymore? You think that one dude is greater than the sum of everyone else? That's cool, we'll see about that.
And that is why the Celtics are going to be OK, at least in the short term. This team, this enigmatic, complex, underachieving, plain and simple bizarre team, is going to start winning.
Doc Rivers told the assembled media after Sunday's electrifying win over the Miami Heat that they could all go ahead and write the Celtics' obituary if they so desired. Several of those folks took him up on it. There have been cries from Stockbridge to Boston and beyond that without Rondo, the Celts are dunzo, that this thing must be blown up right now, that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett must be traded at once and there is no hope to be found.
Not so fast. That may all be true down the road. But to assume that it will all happen in such an organized fashion beginning promptly at 7:30 on Wednesday night when the C's resume their schedule, is foolish. These guys are pro athletes and they are all proud in one way or another. They all know that no one is giving them a chance to go anywhere further this year now that Rondo is gone. They know that the prevailing sentiment out there is that their season is now over.
And that's why a winning streak is about to begin.
The Us-Against-The-World mentality is a cliche at this point, but that doesn't mean it's not a motivational tactic employed by teams across the entire sporting landscape. The players remaining on the Celtics' roster know that as well as anyone and if any of them forget it for even a millisecond, you can bet Doc or Garnett or Pierce will be front and center to cheerfully remind them.
Nobody believes in us except the guys in this room, they'll say. And it will work.
Look, Rajon Rondo is a wonderful player and he's a massive asset to the Celtics. It's true that for all of his brilliance, he can be a maddening, frustrating player to watch and to cheer on for a variety of reasons, no matter how many triple-doubles he registers.
And the Celts are not going to be a better team without him, as some local talk radio hosts who have had a hair across their asses for him for years and are currently doing on-air victory laps as if they personally tore his ACL, would have you believe.
But that's to be examined and discussed in the long run. In the short run, these players, led by KG and Pierce, two fiercely proud, future Hall of Fame warriors, will rally, will play the Nobody Believes in Us card for as long as they can, and will make some hay in the watered down Eastern Conference.
After that, who knows? Maybe the novelty will wear off and not having their floor general will catch up to them and they'll tumble out of the playoff picture and into the lottery. Maybe Danny Ainge won't wait that long and will break up the roster before the trade deadline happens in just over three weeks.
But we don't know that. We have no way of knowing. It's just as possible that the run on which these guys are about to embark will carry over past the All-Star break and the deadline. That they'll tap into something heretofore unknown and catch fire long enough to thrust them out of the race for the right to be vaporized by the Heat in the first round and into a more familiar post-season scenario.
It could happen. The fun starts Wednesday night when the Sacramento/Seattle Kings/Sonics come to town.