BOSTON -- The news of Delonte West's broken wrist that will sideline him indefinitely left his teammates and coaches heartbroken for a player who had already endured so much just to get back on the court.
But, as a team, the loss of a key player to injury hardly sent shockwaves through the Boston locker room. As captain Paul Pierce shrugged and mused after Wednesday's gritty 89-83 triumph over the New Jersey Nets, "What's new?"
"We've been dealing with [injuries] for the last couple years," Pierce said. "We're going to respond. We're not a team that hangs our heads or makes excuses because we're without two or three guys. We feel the guys we put out on the floor are more than capable of getting the job done."
Indeed, the injury bug has never wandered far from the Celtics in recent years. It stung Kevin Garnett's knee in the second half of the
2008-09 season, derailing Boston's chance at defending the world title it hoisted in the first (and healthiest) season of the new Big Three.
Last season, injury woes lingered for Garnett, while Pierce endured a cocktail of maladies himself (all while role players such as Marquis Daniels and Glen Davis endured extended absences due to injuries of their own). One win away from an NBA title, starting center Kendrick Perkins tore his ACL and could only watch as the Lakers rallied to win Games 6 and 7 to emerge as champions.
Barely out of the starting gates of the 2010-11 campaign, the Celtics have watched frontcourt additions Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal tag-team on playing time, each sitting extended stretches due to injuries. Starting point guard Rajon Rondo is nursing a strained left hamstring that has sidelined him for three consecutive games.
Now West is expected to miss anywhere from three months (the optimistic timetable set by Shaq) to the rest of the regular season (the pessimistic diagnosis suggested by coach Doc Rivers), and the Celtics must now find a way to make do without possibly their top backup at the point guard spot.
Oh, and one of the top options to fill the gap? Rookie Avery Bradley, who's still nursing a tender left ankle that was surgically repaired this offseason.
"It's tough, honestly," Rivers said. "I was talking about it today, about Avery. He's played -- I think [assistant coach] Lawrence [Frank] or [assistant coach] Kevin Eastman said it today -- he's been through three full practices this season, including training camp. And he's a rookie, and we're going to throw him on the floor. So, at times, we've just got to protect him. We don't want to ruin him. And he's not healthy, yet; not great health. So, it's what we have.
"Rondo will come back soon, so we'll have two [experienced] guards [with Nate Robinson]. We'll probably have to get through one more game."
It seems as though the Celtics are always trying to get through one more game.
West broke the same wrist in January of 2009 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and missed roughly two months and 16 total games. Rivers didn't seem nearly as optimistic about as speedy a recovery this time around, but knows his team can bide its time so long as it's healthy come the postseason.
That's exactly what happened last season, when Boston labored through a 27-27 stretch over the final 54 games of the 2009-10 season, stumbling into the postseason in order to be healthy and make a strong charge.
The Celtics wanted to avoid a similar experience this season, but injuries might leave them no other option.
The encouraging news is that, if Wednesday's game is any example, Boston has the sort of newfound depth that will help it win the types of games that slipped away at the end of last season.
The Celtics were a listless bunch, sleepwalking through the early stages of Wednesday's visit from the Nets, then further sapped by the loss of West, who lay writhing in pain under the basket nearest the Boston bench after landing on his right wrist following a driving layup late in the first half.
The severity of the injury was clear to anyone within earshot who could hear West howl in pain. The medical staff did all it could to immobilize the wrist while leading him off the court, but word came quick that it was a broken bone.
The Celtics could have packed it in then, with West's injury a built-in excuse for failure. Instead, they hopped on Shaq's back, riding the 38-year-old veteran's second consecutive double-double (25 points, 11 rebounds) while rallying from behind in the final frame.
"I thought we had one stretch [in the first half] that took the life out of our team," Rivers said. "I think we missed like five point-blank layups at the basket, followed by Delonte's injury. You could just see the life go out of everybody. Especially with Delonte. He just gets back, he's playing hard, and then, bam! So, that was tough.
"At halftime, everybody was in there around [West] and wanting to see how he was doing. Then Nate gets his fourth foul to start the third quarter and we don't have any guards left."
With their backs against the wall, the Celtics got more unlikely contributions. Not only did Shaq find the fountain of youth and sizzle at the free throw line, but Marquis Daniels began thriving in a point guard role he got tangled in last season, while Von Wafer came off the bench for five fantastic minutes of defense when Boston needed it most.
"Marquis gave us unbelievable minutes," Rivers said. "I mean, unbelievable minutes. And Von Wafer, his stat line's going to say basically nothing. I thought his defensive energy was phenomenal, and it was great for Von in the locker room because everybody was grabbing him and [congratulating him] because -- finally -- defense and Von Wafer can now go together. And that's a great thing. It really is. He's bought in, and it's a great lesson for him: Just hang in there. And he did."
Just hang in there. It might as well be the Celtics' slogan in this Big Three era. Losing guys to injury is nothing new, and Boston always finds a way to remain competitive when it matters most.
Which leaves the rest of the league shrugging and musing, "What's new?"
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.