You would think that after an exhilarating double-overtime victory against the archrival Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics' locker room would be unbelievably jubilant as mental images of Red Auerbach lighting up a victory cigar flashed in the minds of Celtics fans everywhere.
Well, that's how it should have been.
The Boston players expressed a few moments of exuberance before Doc Rivers came into the locker room and broke the news that Rajon Rondo had torn his ACL (via ESPN) and would miss the remainder of the season. Paul Pierce had actually found out during an on-court postgame interview with ESPN's Doris Burke.
This heartbreaking photograph of Rondo after he had heard the news (he didn't find out until after the game) pretty much says it all.
The C's came into the 2012-13 campaign with lofty expectations. After pushing the Heat to the brink last June, GM Danny Ainge reloaded the roster with numerous pieces to not only attempt to merely keep the team in contention, but to try and put it over the top.
Now, with Rondo no longer in tow, those moves seem all for naught.
The Celtics have been through adversity before, but not since Garnett went down with a season-ending knee injury during the 2008-09 season have they experienced anything like this.
This was a gut-punch of the most vicious sort in a year that has been as up and down as Galloping Gertie once was before crashing into Puget Sound. After a 14-17 start, Boston reeled off six wins in a row and appeared to be "flipping the switch." The C's would then proceed to undo that streak, dropping six straight and causing their fans to go into full-fledged panic mode.
Then, it was announced that Rondo had torn his ACL.
But you know what the worst part is? He injured it during the second overtime of the team's loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, a game where the Celtics had blown a 27-point lead. Had they just held on to that massive lead they'd built during that contest, this wouldn't even be a discussion. Rondo would have never had the chance to mess up his knee, and Boston would be sitting pretty looking to make another push after a victory over Miami.
It was just another of the many "what-ifs" that have seemed to plague this franchise over the past several seasons.
Of course, there is no going back in time and changing things. Like it or not, Rondo is done for the season. Now, Ainge is faced with a crucial decision: Does he ride it out with K.G. and Pierce one last time, or does he move them and start the rebuilding process?
The thing is, the C's are probably still good enough to beat any Eastern Conference team not named the Heat in a seven-game series. And you can bet that while they wouldn't beat Miami, they'd still give the Heat a handful of trouble.
Garnett, Pierce and Rivers have absolutely no quit in them, and they will absolutely do their best to make sure that attitude rubs off on the other guys in the locker room.
So, maybe Ainge actually tries to make a move or two to patch up some holes? For example, the Toronto Raptors are rumored to be shopping Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon, according to NBC Sports. Do the Celtics consider pulling the trigger on a deal for one of those two to replace Rondo? After all, Boston does not have a true point guard at the moment, so it might have to do something in that regard.
If you add someone of Lowry or Calderon's caliber into the mix, suddenly, it doesn't look all that bad for the C's. Could they beat the Heat? Well, probably not, but they could definitely embark on another magical playoff run similar to last year. Heck, they might be able to do that without adding a player like one of the two Raptors guards.
In trying to remain as optimistic as possible, this team should still make the playoffs with its current roster. It has shown this season that it can win big games without Rondo, beating the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden earlier in the month and topping Miami on Sunday. Plus, given the utter ineptitude of the East, it's kind of difficult to envision a scenario where the Celtics don't get in.
The million dollar question is whether or not Ainge would be okay with his guys putting up one final valiant postseason effort. He considered breaking up the team last season before Boston played the role of Cinderella by getting all the way to the conference finals and nearly knocking off the Heat. Wouldn't it seem somewhat appropriate to let K.G. and Pierce go down fighting one final time?
It's like the old cliché says: Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
These C's—namely Garnett and Pierce—seem to have an indestructible organ beating in the left side of their chest. Pierce is confident (via ESPN Boston) that the Celtics can still hang with any team in the Eastern Conference despite the loss of Rondo. Doc says he isn't writing any obituaries.
Given Boston's track record, it's hard to sit there and say, "Sorry, guys, but you're wrong."