BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted that he hadn't gazed too far into a Rajon Rondo-less future, but on the heels of a double-overtime triumph over the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat, Rivers hinted that Boston's expectations won't change despite the loss of its star point guard.
"You can write the obituary; I'm not," Rivers said. "You can go ahead, but I'm not. We won tonight and so, the way I look at it is, we're going to stay in there. In my opinion, we're going nowhere."
Forgive the pun, but the prevalent knee-jerk reaction to Rondo's season-ending ACL injury seemed to be that Boston should abandon a ship that's been treading water for much of the 2012-13 season.
Boston entered Sunday's showdown against Miami having lost its previous six games, culminating with Friday's loss in Atlanta in which Boston coughed up a 27-point lead before falling in double overtime. Rondo injured himself in the fourth quarter of that game and, in hindsight, you can't help but wonder if it could have been avoided if the Celtics had simply maintained a comfortable advantage.
The Celtics (21-23) remain two games under .500 after Sunday's win and sit eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Boston must now decide whether it still has the horses to make another title charge, or if it's better to become a seller at the trade deadline and start building toward a future when Rondo might be back on the floor.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Rivers and the team's players were adamant their preference is to give this thing a chance, even without Rondo.
"It just puts this team and the rest of these guys in position to be ready to step up," captain Paul Pierce said. "Tonight was a perfect example. We showed we are capable. We know, with or without Rondo, we still have the depth to compete with anybody. We showed it in New York [when Rondo was suspended] and we showed it tonight versus Miami, so it's no more of a secret.
"It's just about putting it together, being consistent, being disciplined and playing with the kind of grit that we played with [on Sunday]."
Kevin Garnett echoed that sentiment, saying, "We take this season one game at a time. I don't see that being different."
"We're working hard and we're trying to work our way out of this thing, out of this funk," Garnett added. "No one's going to walk through these doors and save us, we have to save ourselves. We created this mess, so we have to work our way out of it.
"I told you we have a bunch of fighters in here, a bunch of guys that are willing to work, put the work in. That's what we've always been since I've been here under Doc's regime."
Across the hall, even members of the rival Heat seemed genuinely interested in how the Celtics will proceed.
"I guess we'll see. They haven't played without [Rondo] that much, but he's a playmaker for this team," Dwyane Wade said. "He makes most of the triggers for this team. He pretty much does it all.
"But it's the NBA and guys are going to have to step up and get their opportunity. I think they'll learn how to play without what he brings to the game, and other guys can bring it. So like I said, any time we play Boston, we throw the records out. It's going to be a competitive game."
When the 35-year-old Pierce was reminded of his NBA mortality and how Rondo's injury detours his quest for another title, he didn't back down from his desire for this team to maintain its goals.
"We still like our chances in the Eastern Conference," Pierce said. "I mean, we feel like we can play with anybody with the team we put out there, even without Rondo. Guys are going to get an opportunity now, and we know guys have taken a lesser role because of the way our team is built. Now they're going to have to take on a bigger role.
"And we know we have guys that are more than capable of stepping up, whether it's Courtney Lee, whether it's [Leandro] Barbosa, we know these guys can play. It's just that, with the system we have, with having Rondo be our primary playmaker, 48-minute guy, these guys probably haven't really had a chance to showcase what they can do, and now they're going to have that opportunity."
Ainge has long maintained that he'll only make moves in the best interest of the ballclub. Having preached patience for much of this roller-coaster season, Boston's decision-makers likely will give this team a chance to show what it's capable of over the next couple of weeks before determining how they will approach the trade deadline.
If Boston elects to stay the course, the Celtics clearly need another ball handler (and maybe a stopgap on a 10-day contract until a more permanent answer can be found). While Lee, Barbosa, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry all are capable guards, they all prefer to operate off the ball. Pierce can play some point-forward, but Boston almost certainly must find a ball handler to limit turnovers when opponents press.
Rivers said he hadn't even started pondering roster options, but noted that the team's second unit operates without a pure ball handler at times and Boston will likely attempt to go with a similar spread offense until a longer-term solution emerges.
"We basically did it with the first unit today, with the spread offense and five guys behind the 3[-point line] and a lot of dribble handoffs," Rivers said. "Any of the [shooting guards] can dribble the ball. Obviously, you don't ever want this to happen. The only break for us is that we've been working with the second unit with this offense, and the first unit plays against it every day, and they even run it some. So at least we have a feel for something."
When the conversation swung back to how Boston could proceed, Rivers reiterated his stance
"I still like our team," Rivers said. "Obviously, [losing Rondo is] a blow. It's a huge blow for us. Listen, when something like this happens, we'll find someone that's already in our locker room that's going to play terrific. And I have no idea who it is. Tonight it was [Barbosa] and the team [as a whole]. And that's what we're going to have to do."
Lee admitted nobody can fill Rondo's shoes, but that won't stop him from trying to help.
"We can't match it. He is who he is," Lee said. "[Rondo has] been an All-Star, he's starting for the All-Star team this year. So what me and Avery are going to do is we'll probably split some of the minutes and even Barbosa also. We have to go out there and play solid, compete every night, make sure we know our plays, get people in the right spots, and just go out there and execute.
"It's definitely going to be tough. Nobody can fill [Rondo's] shoes. That's what makes him great. The only thing we can do is work as hard as possible and keep the momentum going from this game and have no let-up."