WALTHAM, Mass. (AP)
Get used to it: Pierce will have the ball in his hands a lot more from now on.
Two days after learning that Rajon Rondo has a torn knee ligament that will keep him out the rest of the season, the Celtics returned to practice Tuesday for the first time to work on an extended future without the All-Star point guard. Pierce is the most likely player to handle the ball at key points, starting with Wednesday night's visit from the Sacramento Kings, but coach Doc Rivers says everyone will have to work to replace Rondo.
"It's just basketball," he said. "There's no point guard. It's just basketball by committee. I don't want a guy thinking now he's Rondo."
Rondo was averaging 13.7 points, a league-best 11.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds, with triple-doubles in back-to-back games when he was scratched from Sunday's visit from defending champion Miami. He was sent to the hospital to check on what the team believed was a hyperextended right knee.
The actual diagnosis: A torn anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery and a recovery period of up to a year.
"Everybody was in a fog almost," center Kevin Garnett said. "I think it's kind of settling in and I think everybody is trying to put their arms around the concept that he's actually hurt, hurt to the point where he can't play. That's what had everybody in a fog, even him.
"He came in this morning and seeing him in there was kind of unreal. The fact that it is real, everybody is going to consolidate and pick up the pieces and try to carry this thing."
Rondo was injured in a double-overtime loss to Atlanta on Friday night, a game in which the Celtics blew a 27-point lead. Despite playing without their floor leader Sunday - players didn't know the extent of the injury until after the game - they beat the Heat in double overtime to improve to 21-23, and now lead Philadelphia by 2 1/2 games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Rivers said he isn't sure who will bring the ball up the court against the Kings - it will probably change from game to game depending on what the opponent is doing - but once the offense is set up he will expect everyone to be involved.
That's the way the Celtics played against Miami on Sunday. Now they need to do it the rest of the season.
"It's a no-point-guard system," Rivers said, noting that his second unit has been playing that way all season. "Now the entire team needs to do it. We have a lot of guards. We just don't have a lot of point guards."
Rivers said Courtney Lee, who has been averaging 7.2 points and 1.4 assists in 22 minutes, will start for now. Leandro Barbosa, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Jason Terry will also have the ball more without Rondo on the floor.
"I don't know if that's a role I'm going to have," said Barbosa, who backed up Steve Nash in Phoenix and is averaging 4.7 points in 11 minutes in his first season with the Celtics. "I'm not Rajon Rondo; I'm Leandro Barbosa. What I'm going to do is different for the team.
"I will do my best, but I'm not a point guard; I'm a shooting guard. I will do my best, but I'm not a Rajon Rondo."
Rondo was fairly invisible the last two times Boston faced the Kings (17-29), totaling six points on 3-of-15 shooting in a pair of blowout losses. He was thoroughly outplayed by Isaiah Thomas on Dec. 30 in Sacramento, as Thomas had 27 points and DeMarcus Cousins recorded his first career triple-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in a 118-96 Kings win.
Cousins has struggled lately, averaging 9.7 points, 4.7 boards and 4.0 turnovers in his last three games, but Thomas rescued Sacramento on Monday at Washington. He had 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, the last of which came on a floater with 1 second left that gave the Kings a 96-94 win.
"I don't think we turned the ball over as much and we got the stops when we needed them," Thomas said. "We dialed in on the defensive end and got stops, especially in the last couple of minutes."
The Kings allowed only 37 points after halftime, well below their Western Conference-worst average of 50.3 in the second half.
Sacramento has lost all four visits to the TD Garden since Garnett arrived in Boston for the 2007-08 season.