Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
For 45 seconds, everything was perfect.
The injuries, the trade rumors, none of it mattered.
In that moment, the Boston Celtics were completely unstoppable.
The sequence began with a Jason Terry jumper from the left side.
Swish. Three points.
On the next possession, Los Angeles forward Antawn Jamison misfired from about eight feet out. Paul Pierce corralled the rebound.
Next, Pierce did his best Joe Flacco impression, winding up and sending the ball ahead to Jeff Green for an easy dunk. The TD Garden looked like it might explode.
A few moments later, it nearly did. Green, still feeling the adrenaline from his epic throw-down on the other end, leaped from behind to swat away Jamison's layup attempt. The ball slammed against the backboard before finding its way into the hands of Avery Bradley.
Bradley dished it off to Terry but instead of shooting it, Terry whipped it across the floor to Pierce. Never missing the opportunity to be a hero, the captain launched a deep three with Jamison's hand in his face.
There was no need to even look up. Everyone in the arena knew it was going in.
The Garden erupted as a speechless Mike D'Antoni motioned for a timeout. The scoreboard read Celtics 95, Lakers 69 with 40.6 seconds to go in the third quarter.
The final quarter was just a formality. The game was over as soon as Pierce's three hit the bottom of the net.
Winter storm Nemo is set to hit Boston later this evening but for the Celtics, the storm already hit. Two weeks ago, Rajon Rondo's "hamstring" injury turned out to be a torn ACL, leaving the C's without their franchise point guard for the rest of the season.
Suddenly a dark cloud fell over the Celtics' dynasty. Danny Ainge, always a risk taker, was now left with a decision to make. Should he dismantle the team's veteran core and build for the future or ride it out with the current roster and hope for the best?
Ainge hasn't pressed the self-destruct button yet and at this point, it doesn't look like he'll need to. Thursday's 116-95 win over the Lakers, the Celtics' largest margin of victory this season, was Boston's sixth triumph in a row without Rondo.
During the streak, the C's have averaged 102.8 ppg on 49.1 percent shooting while limiting their opponents to just 92.8 ppg with a 41.7 percent success rate from the field. Before Rondo's injury, Boston's offense was producing only 95.0 ppg with opponents scoring at a rate of 96.4 ppg. The Celtics were shooting 45.5 percent before Rondo went down with the opposition hitting on 44.6 percent of its attempts.
When Ray Allen broke up the Big Three by leaving to go to Miami last summer, the Celtics became Rondo's team. Yet somehow, the Celtics look like a more complete team now than they ever did with Rondo.
For years, detractors have criticized the Celtics for their lack of depth. Rondo, Garnett, Pierce and Allen may have been enough to win the inferior Eastern Conference but you need more than that if you want to go all the way.
With Rondo out, the Celtics have gone to a point guard by committee approach. Instead of standing around and waiting for Rondo to distribute the basketball, the Celtics have come to rely on heavy ball movement and elaborate screens in order to get off shots. As a result, role players with minimal fantasy values have become much more involved in the Boston offense. Look at how the Celtics' top six scorers have fared during the streak:
Kevin Garnett: 17.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 66.2 FG%
Paul Pierce: 17.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 6.2 apg, 44.3 FG%
Jeff Green: 13.7 ppg, 51.7 FG%
Jason Terry: 11.2 ppg, 55.8 FG%
Courtney Lee: 10.3 ppg, 42.1 FG%
Brandon Bass: 8.5 ppg, 50 FG%
You'll notice that these are substantial improvements from the way they were playing before Rondo's injury:
Garnett: 14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 49.2 FG%
Pierce: 18.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.8 apg, 42.0 FG%
Green: 9.6 ppg, 42.7 FG%
Terry: 9.8 ppg, 42.6 FG%
Lee: 7.3 ppg, 47.4 FG%
Bass: 7.4 ppg, 44.6 FG%
While Garnett, Green and Lee have seen their production skyrocket, Pierce's ppg average has actually slipped with Rondo out of the lineup. That's partly because Pierce is taking fewer shots (13.2 attempts per game during the winning streak compared to 15.0 in his first 43 games) and acting as sort of a point forward, getting his teammates involved and only looking to score as a last resort. Pierce has also flexed his muscle as a rebounder during the streak, pulling down almost 10 boards a game (5.7 rpg before Rondo got injured).
The only drawback to Pierce's new role as distributor is that it's made him more turnover-prone (3.7 TO per game since Rondo went out versus just 2.4 before the injury).
By sharing the wealth and buckling down on defense (a lot of credit there has to go to Avery Bradley) some of Boston's less heralded players like Green and Lee have suddenly become fantasy options. Even Bass (7.6 ppg) should see an increase in ownership now that Jared Sullinger (6.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is out with a season-ending back injury.
Two weeks ago when Rondo's injury first came to light, head coach Doc Rivers told reporters, "You can write the obituary; I'm not."