Celtics coach Doc Rivers estimated a "one or two" week absence for Rajon Rondo after Boston's All-Star point guard suffered a left ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over the New York Knicks.
Earlier Thursday, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told radio station WEEI that Rondo "will be out for a couple of weeks, anyway."
Rondo, who is averaging 11.2 points and a league-leading 13.8 assists per game for the 20-4 Celtics, was able to return to action in the 118-116 victory over the Knicks, and said afterward that he expected to play Thursday against Atlanta.
"I think that Rajon is young, and he heals fast and he loves to play, to his credit," Ainge told WEEI. "I couldn't believe he was back on the court last night. He wasn't moving very well, even when he got back out on the court. You could tell he was still in a lot of pain, and certainly after the game it started puffing up. This morning there was a lot of swelling, and he definitely needs some time off."
Echoing the sentiments of Ainge, Rivers said they'll give Rondo time to heal, particularly after battling a cocktail of maladies including a sore left hamstring and plantar fasciitis. Rivers also noted that Boston is desperate for bodies.
Even still, Rivers kept his typical sense of humor amid a thinning roster.
"I told [rookie forward] Luke [Harangody] to get ready," Rivers joked about his backup point guard situation, with Nate Robinson set to join the starting lineup in Rondo's absence. "Harangody's debut at the backup point. No, really, [rookie] Avery [Bradley] and Marquis [Daniels will be the backups]. That's where, someone was asking me, 'Could you lose Rondo?' and I said, 'Yeah, we're 3-1 and should be 4-0 without him.' But what we can't lose is Rondo and Delonte West. The numbers are starting to add up now, to where we just can't sustain another one.
"I actually said that [Wednesday] night and that went over well. But that's where we are at. Right now, Nate is going to have to play a ton of minutes. If he gets into foul trouble or anything, that's where we struggle, each position is getting thinner and thinner right now with this group."
The Celtics are already playing without what Rivers affectionately dubbed "21 feet of centers" with Shaquille O'Neal (calf), Jermaine O'Neal (knee), and Kendrick Perkins (knee) all sidelined. That has left rookie center Semih Erden logging spot starts, but Boston is still riding an 11-game winning streak. The Celtics previously lost West (wrist) indefinitely last month and that leaves little depth at backup point guard.
"We'll use Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen] and Marquis [at point guard], whoever [the opposition] is not pressuring," Rivers said. "Every team, you have one guy who pressures the ball, maybe two. Rarely do all three guys go up pressuring the ball. We did it one game, whoever was the guy, we don't know who that guy is going into the game and that clearly changes your offense, when you can't decide who's bringing the ball up ... but whoever [doesn't get pressured], that's who will bring the ball up the floor."
Meanwhile, Bradley has played a mere 28 minutes in five appearances after he started his rookie campaign on the shelf after offseason ankle surgery. Rivers stressed that he'd continue to protect the young guard.
"He's going to be a good player and everyone wants to see the young guy play because they think they're ready now, because you don't see him," Rivers said. "I 'm going to try to protect his minutes, where he's out with the better players, the starters. Listen, he's just going to have to play some for sure."
As for Robinson, who has thrived as a starter, averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists, and shooting 62.5 percent from the floor in four starts (as opposed to 5.5 points, 1.6 assists, and a 39.1 shooting percentage when coming off the bench), Rivers simply wants him to continue to be himself.
"Offensively, we're going to be fine," Rivers said. "Hell, in the four games we've actually scored more when Nate is in the lineup. Defensively, that's where you're more concerned because of Nate's size -- not the effort, that's been great -- but his size has an impact on you. Then the bench part of it. Before, you had Delonte, that could come in, for that little stretch [after his season-opening 10-game suspension]. So you had another guy.
"All the injuries are more of a problem than just one guy's injuries."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.