BOSTON – No Rajon Rondo, no problem? For 48 minutes Friday night that appeared to be the case, as the Boston Celtics rolled to a 114-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in their first game without their star point guard. With the victory, the Celtics have now won three games in a row.
Evan Turner got the starting nod in place of Rondo, and he was one of six Celtics that scored in double figures, helping Boston pull away late against the hapless Wolves.
Kelly Olynyk had a team-high 21 points overall, but Boston’s final quarter breakout was led by none other than Rondo’s projected eventual replacement, rookie Marcus Smart.
The 21-year old had missed the past two games with a sprained Achilles, but he looked sharp down the stretch Friday, scoring all eight of his points in the fourth quarter. Smart played all 12 minutes in the frame and his energy on both ends of the floor helped the Celtics cruise to a double-digit victory.
From a big picture perspective, this win probably means nothing. Minnesota was playing without several of their starters and they are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference anyway. With or without Rondo, Boston should have been able to beat them.
Still, it was encouraging to see several members of the roster step up in the absence of their now former captain. As Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said before the game, it’s not a sure thing this team will see a significant drop-off in performance in Rondo’s absence.
“Rajon was a terrific player and I enjoyed watching Rajon for the last nine years, but time will tell [if this trade is a step back]. It’s just that simple. None of us can predict what will happen, but we’ll see what these players [from Dallas] are and how they fit in with our system. We’ll see how players that get opportunities more will play and time will tell.”
The Celtics will get their first true test of the non-Rondo era Sunday night when they face off with the Miami Heat in Florida. All three new additions (Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson) are expected to be in uniform for that contest.