The perfect storm of injuries continued to thunder down on the Celtics today with Jared Sullinger joining teammate Rajon Rondo on the sidelines thanks to a season-ending back injury, but the C's refused to be deterred. Another night, another decisive victory, the team's third straight. Again, the outcome was never in doubt, and Boston coasted to a 97-84 victory on the TD Garden floor.
Does it help that the opponent was lowly Orlando, 14-32 on the season, the Celtics' second cupcake matchup in as many games? Yeah, sure. But regardless of the team in the other locker room, it was good for the C's morale just to prove they're not dead yet. Two of their key players are gone and not walking through that door, but the rest of them fight on.
"We have a job to do still," Paul Pierce said. "We can't look at this and say it's time to stop playing. All of us have responsibilities as NBA players to show up and play as hard as we can in practice and in the games, and try to win as many games as possible. The goal still hasn't changed. We've just got to keep guys in line with what we're trying to accomplish around here. Don't use injuries as an excuse, and just move on."
Pierce in particular is plowing forward. Recognizing that his team lacked its leading assist man (Rondo) and its leading per-minute rebounder (Sullinger), the captain stepped up and gave his team a little bit of help in each area. Pierce finished with a near-triple double -- 14 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists -- giving him three straight games with double-digit boards.
"He's our rebounder," coach Doc Rivers said of Pierce. "He's one of them. He has to be. I mean, he literally has to be a rebounder for us."
He's got to be a lot of things. Playing a little bit of power forward, a little bit of point forward, a little bit of a wing scorer, and everywhere in between, Pierce fueled the Celtics. There was no Rondo and no Sullinger, but the captain channeled a little bit of both of them.
"I'm just trying to play to my abilities," he said. "I'm capable of doing a little bit of everything. Just trying to give the game what it needs, regardless of whether it's playing in Rondo's role, or Sully's role as a rebounder. I'm just trying to fill the needs. Whatever this ballclub needs."
Pierce led by example, but a lot of his teammates contributed as well. Jeff Green came off the bench for an explosive 17 points, highlighted by a couple of memorable dunks; Kevin Garnett turned in a tidy 14 and 10 with three steals; and Jason Terry continued to climb out of his recent slump, kicking in 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
"I told y'all when Rondo went down that everyone would have to pick up the load," Garnett said. "Now that it's Jared? Even more. Jared was a great rebounder for us, a great facilitator, but now guys are getting opportunities, and like I said with Rondo, it's going to fall on the backs of everybody. I thought tonight was a perfect example of that."
"One of the things we talked about before the game is don't try to be different," Rivers said. "Just do what you do, do what we've asked you to do, don't do anything more. Just play each game as a single game. We've got to have that type of focus for us to be a good team now."
The Celtics haven't proven much yet. Beating the Kings and Magic, both at home, won't impress anyone; we won't really know what this team's made of until the Clippers, Lakers and Nuggets put them to test in the week ahead. But for now, the C's are treading water, making a statement that they're not dead yet.
"We don't back up," Rivers said. "We just keep moving forward. That's the way we've got to approach it."