Adversity Follows Celtics into Playoffs

ATLANTA – There have been two constants throughout the Boston Celtics’ 2011-12 season: injuries and adversity.

Both could play a role in Tuesday night’s Game 2.

The Celtics have already been dealing with the absence of future Hall of Famer Ray Allen, who hasn’t been able to shake off pain in his sore right ankle. Now they could be facing the task of playing Game 2 without their best playmaker, Rajon Rondo.

With 41 seconds remaining in Game 1, Rondo heavily disputed a call and picked up a technical foul. He then trailed the referee who made those calls, Marc Davis, and tripped over Davis’ foot, resulting in what Rondo says was an unintentional chest bump.

The NBA has strict guidelines regarding making physical contact with a referee. Those guidelines could lead to a one-game suspension of Rondo, but the Celtics are hoping the league takes everything into consideration before making such a decision.

Rondo maintains that the bump was not at all intentional and was 100 percent as a result of Davis stopping while the point guard was walking behind him. Rivers agreed with that assessment last night before watching the replay “10 times” since. He confirmed on Monday that he still stands by his and his point guard’s perspective.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo's ejection in Game 1 could lead to some added adversity for the Celtics in Game 2.
Grant Halverson/NBAE/Getty

“They ran into each other, there’s no doubt about it,” Doc Rivers said. “I thought it was a bump and the league’s going to do what they have to do. I still don’t think it was ever intentional.”

Intentional or not, the potential of playing Game 2 without both Allen and Rondo is very real for this Boston team. That’s quite challenge to be staring down, particularly when trailing a series and not having home court advantage. However, this team has shown resolve in similar situations all year.

“Adversity has been like the theme of the season, whether it’s players being out for one reason or another: hurt, in the rotation or out of the rotation,” said Keyon Dooling, who himself falls into both of those categories. “But I think if any team is equipped to deal with a situation like that, it’s us.”

That characteristic has been one of Boston’s strongest assets this season. In fact, before this series even began, Rivers singled out his team’s resolve by saying, “There’s been so many times where (we hit) the fork in the road and we could’ve taken the other path, and I don’t think this team has ever done it.”

The Celtics are already staring down a fork in the road thanks to falling behind 1-0 in the series. If they’re forced to play without Rondo in Game 2, taking the correct path at that fork will certainly become a much more difficult task.

One man whom the team may lean on to lead it in the correct direction is Paul Pierce. The captain has delivered time and time again this season when other players have been out of the lineup.

Pierce’s role changes dramatically when Rondo is not playing. No. 34 becomes the focal point of the offense in what many refer to as a point-forward role.

Rondo missed 13 games this season due to injuries or suspensions. Pierce played major minutes in 11 of those games and saw a spike in all three major statistical categories in those games. His regular-season stats of 19.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 4.5 APG jump all the way up to 22.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 7.6 APG in those 11 contests. That’s an increase of 3.1 assists while Rondo is out of the lineup.

These numbers give a clear indication of how Pierce’s role morphs when the league’s top assist man is not playing. Pierce is still relied on to score the basketball, but more importantly, the team needs him to distribute the ball to his teammates.

Like the savvy veteran Pierce is, he said today that he doesn’t go into those games seeking more assists. He simply takes what the other team gives him.

“I really don’t go into a game saying, ‘This is what I’ve got to do more,’ “ Pierce said before Monday’s practice. “I’ve told you all many times, I just play within the flow of the game, try to give it what it needs regardless of who’s out there.”

If this season’s trend of adversity continues in Game 2 and Rondo is unavailable, Boston will need Pierce to give the game a lot if the C’s are going to tie this series up at 1-1. Sill, though, hope remains that the Adversity Train will pass by without nailing the Celtics yet again.

Said Dooling, “Hopefully the incidental bump, they’ll be lenient with it and we’ll have [Rondo] and be ready to go.”