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Rajon Rondo and the Celtics' reality

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 28, 2013 12:41 PM

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If we couldn't already place his whereabouts in New Orleans, where he'll surely soon be asked and asked again about his recent forecast of the NFL's extinction, Bernard Pollard might be a prime suspect in what happened Friday night in Atlanta. The Ravens safety has an uncanny knack for being in the vicinity of serious injuries to New England athletes, and yes, I'll spare you Pollard's personal knock-out list.

Let's just say that had Pollard somehow covertly switched sports, slipped into the guard rotation for the Hawks, and been responsible for the injury to Rajon Rondo that ended the brilliant point guard's season and his team's thin glimmer of postseason glory, it would be only slightly less strange than how the whole devastating plot twist really played out.

Rondo's belief that he tweaked his hamstring in the loss to the Hawks raised the antenna of team doctor Brian McKeon, who told coach Doc Rivers before Sunday's much-anticipated national television reunion with Ray Allen and the Heat that his best player was a no-go and, in fact, en route to New England Baptist for an MRI.

McKeon's suspicion soon brought confirmation of the worst -- torn right ACL, season over -- and an eerie pall fell over the Garden as virtually everyone in the building learned about the crushing news, many via social media, long before the Celtics players were informed they'd being marching on without their dynamic, enigmatic floor leader.

In a truly weird sort of way, the Celtics had their season's high point -- a 100-98 double-overtime victory over the defending champs -- and the painfully obvious low point within the same hours. The last couple of days encapsulate who they have been this season.

Had they not grown complacent and punted away a 27-point lead in an eventual 123-111 double-overtime loss to the Hawks, Rondo may never have been in a position to suffer the injury, which is our basketball version of lamenting Rob Gronkowski's inclusion on the extra-point team. Watching Gronk fall, then Rondo, has made a Boston sports fan's winter just a little more frigid.

And yet once the Celtics lost Rondo, the improbable victory over the Heat reminded us of the toughness and stubbornness of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in particular. It reminded us why, for all of their uneven play this season, we never entirely wrote them off as a contender. They've proven us wrong before, and that's why so many of us were fine with what Bob Ryan calls Year 6 of a three-year plan. Those who won that 17th banner also won our admiration long ago.

Now? Well, now we can acknowledge that Banner 18 is not happening this year, and barring a Danny Ainge miracle, likely not in the near future. Rondo is gone, off to surgery in the next couple of weeks and then, hopefully, to mimic Adrian Peterson's rehabilitation regimen, and thus gone too are any aspirations of a prolonged postseason run, if they existed at all. As admirable as the Garnett-Pierce-Rondo core of this team can be, let's admit it: the only way they were going to come out of the East is if what happened to Rondo Sunday happened to one of the Heat's superstars along the way.

It's a miniscule consolation, if even that, but at least we now have clarity on this season, on what the Celtics are and who they can be. Rivers warned us Sunday not to write this team's obituary, and I'm not. Bill Simmons's Ewing Theory could come into play for a time -- as wonderful as Rondo is, the offense's efficiency has never fluctuated much in his absence. And given that the Kings and Magic are their next two opponents before they face the soaring Clippers Sunday, a couple of wins could serve as a temporary salve. They're still worth watching, even with the deflated expectations.

Barring an unforeseen blockbuster, it makes sense to keep the core intact, even if it may be too much to ask of Garnett and Pierce to supply anything more than sporadic flashbacks of true brilliance. Pierce in particular has to work hard to earn every statistic these days, and asking him to facilitate the offense in Rondo's absence is a surefire way to burn him out.

But that's a better option than trading him for the sake of trading him, and here's my plea: If your suggestion is to "blow it up,'' c'mon, give me some details. Tell me which players they can acquire who will make their future brighter when Rondo returns, because I'm not seeing much more than the water-treading modern versions of Danny Ainge for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney right now. Don't give me Rudy Gay without looking at his contract status, and please, point me to a team that would have a desire to acquire Pierce and the ability/willingness to trade promising young players for him.

Suggesting trades for trades' sake is the lifeblood of sports radio's laziest vampires. Besides, there's enough here that if the roster remains fundamentally the same, the eighth-seed will remain in their possession. Hey, it's more interesting than bottom-feeding in the lottery.

It'll be fascinating to watch how they get to the postseason, how they avoid that obituary. But it won't be as fun. Rajon Rondo, the Celtics' most mesmerizing player since Larry Bird, has played his final game of the season. His plastic-man knee gave out in Atlanta, the extent of the damage immediately unbeknownst to him as he fiercely played through it. Now his team must play on without him. The extent of the damage to them will only be revealed in his absence.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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