An already aggravating season for the Boston Celtics just got worse today.
Celtics All-Star guard Rajon Rondo tore the ACL in his right knee and will be forced to shut it down for the rest of the season. It is possible that Rondo could return for the start of the 2013-14 season, but a timetable for that date will certainly not be clear until after surgery.
Despite the devastating news, the Celtics managed to rally around their injured star and defeat the defending champion Miami Heat at the TD Bank Garden Sunday afternoon, 100-98 in double-overtime. Paul Pierce hit the go-ahead jumper with just over 30 seconds to play to put the Celtics ahead for good. Pierce finished with a triple-double: 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Rondo’s absence.
Boston’s victory over Miami was a much-needed morale boost and put an end to a brutal six-game losing streak with Rondo in the lineup. The Celtics appeared to hit rock-bottom Friday night after blowing a 27-point lead to the Atlanta Hawks and losing in double overtime.
The Celtics sit at 21-23, currently holding the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They have a 2.5 game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers, who are expecting star center Andrew Bynum to return after the All-Star break.
If they weren’t already, the Celtics are in danger of missing the playoffs, which would be the first time in the Kevin Garnett era. As expected, Doc Rivers has other plans for his battle-tested team.
“You can write the obituary, but I’m not,” Rivers told Yahoo! Sports Sunday after the game.
Needless to say, Rajon Rondo will not be able to participate in the All-Star game on February 17 in Houston. David Stern will have to choose a replacement for him and fill the empty position (Brook Lopez anyone?
With just over two weeks until the game, it should be a highly contested affair between Kyrie Irving and 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday to see who will take Rondo’s starting spot. If Sheridan had a vote, it’d go to the guy from Cleveland.
While Rondo may not have the best reputation around in some league circles, many of his piers felt compelled to pay him a tribute on Twitter today.
More from around the league:
At the ripe age of 20, Kyrie Irving has become the sixth youngest All-Star in NBA history. And that’s just the beginning. Just two months before his 21st birthday, Irving has officially joined the 21-and-under All-Star club. And let me tell you, it’s pretty good company.
The list, in order of age: Kobe Bryant in ’98, LeBron James in ’05, Magic Johnson in ’80, Kevin Garnett in ’97, Isiah Thomas in ’82, Kyrie Irving in ’13 and Shaquille O’Neal in ’93.
Now for most players named to the All-Star team, it’s usually the highlight of their week.
But no, Kyrie Irving is not your ordinary 20 year-old NBA All-Star. While the Cavaliers began the week in relative obscurity, watching the full slate of Martin Luther King Day action from the couch, they’ve closed it out with a bang.
Irving started on Tuesday by running laps around Rondo for 40 points. He was dazzling down the stretch, spearheading his way through the Celtics defense up and down the court as he iced the game with 15 points in the fourth quarter, 11 in the final 2:33.
On Friday night, as Cleveland trailed Milwaukee by 20 at halftime, Irving scored 24 of his game-high 35 points in the second half to turn another sure loss into the teams biggest comeback since the LeBron era. Again, Irving was unstoppable in the fourth quarter, making play after play to put away another game.
And finally, Irving’s great week would culminate Saturday night in Toronto. With 0.7 seconds to play, Irving knocked down his fifth career game-winner, the deepest of the bunch, a 3-pointer from about 30-feet deep in the Air Canada Center to lift the Cavs 99-98 over the Raptors.
“You make some game winners and you’re going to miss some in your career, that’s just the law of averages,” Irving said after the game. “That’s kind of the even-keel attitude I’ve had in my short career.”
Generally, it’s understood in the NBA that if you’re down two on the road with one possession left, you play for overtime. Apparently Kyrie Irving doesn’t like late nights on the road. When your range has no limits, it’s easier to create space. Irving lifted over Alan Anderson – the poor Raptor tasked with checking the first-time All-Star – flicked the ball with picturesque form and held his pose until the ball fell cleanly through the net.
“That’s a big-time play,” Shaun Livingston said. “At 20 years old, to have that type of poise, that’s a veteran type play. That’s something Kobe would do. That’s something Sam Cassell did when he played.
“Three-pointer, on the road, let’s go home, we’re not going to overtime. Great shot, rhythm shot. He misses, still a good shot. That’s a big-time, big-time play.”
Sitting at home on Sunday, the Cavs are coming off their first 3-0 week of the season and have won 4 of 5, in large part because of Kyrie’s wizardry on the court. Irving’s genius in the clutch can be so mesmerizing that it has somehow found a way to overshadow the fact that his three-game average this week was 36 points on 61 percent shooting. Irving scored 107 points on 67 shots and is likely to become this weeks Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
To add a little perspective to where Irving’s efficiency ranks among the league’s elite, in three games this week, Carmelo Anthony scored 82 points on 85 shots, Kobe Bryant finished with 59 points on 55 shots and Kevin Durant scored 89 points on 48 shots.
Irving’s 32 points against Toronto was his seventh 30-point game in the month of January, tied with Kevin Durant for the league lead.
Despite missing 11 games early this season, Irving’s play was stellar enough to be voted onto the All-Star team by the coaches, which IMHO, is a bigger compliment than being voted on by the fans. Because of Cleveland’s lack of primetime opportunities, it’s awfully difficult to expect Uncle Drew to receive the national recognition his play deserves. In all likeliness, if Kyrie had not missed approximately a fourth of the season and had any semblance of TV exposure, he would be starting. The coaches of this league gameplan against him every night, think of this as an admittance to how dangerous he really is.
Irving is not just another one of the many young and talented players to invade the NBA in recent years. He is an outlier, displaying the offensive virtuosity that few in history have replicated at such a young age. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Irving has the eighth highest PER (22.9) among players under 21 and 6-9 in a season, ever. Irving’s 22.9 is looking down at Chris Paul (22.1) and Kobe Bryant (21.7) and up at LeBron James (28.1), Kevin Durant (26.2), Michael Jordan (25.8) and Magic Johnson (25.7). Only Michael Jordan achieved this feat in his rookie year.
Yet as impressive as his statistics and accolades are on paper, they do not begin to detail the true beauty of his game. 85 games into his career, Irving has already mastered the geometry of the NBA. Ambidextrous in nature, with his professorial understanding of spacing, angles and timing, he’s able to freeze his opponent with metronomic handles, turbo speed and creative finishing.