No one thought the Boston Celtics were actually better without Rajon Rondo, but they unquestionably played their best ball of the season in the aftermath of his injury, reeling off a seven-game win streak that put them back in the playoff picture in the East. They've fallen back to Earth since, with a .500 mark in their last eight games. Now that the stretch run of the NBA season is upon us, we'll soon get a better idea of who the Celtics actually are without their best player.
On Tuesday, they travel to Philadelphia for a rematch of last season's seven-game second-round playoff series. Very little has gone right for the 76ers since losing that Game 7 in Boston, but they've been fixtures on national TV for the last few weeks as their season has steadily imploded. After going 2-8 in their last 10 games, they've fallen seven games behind the pace in the East, all but ensuring a playoff spot for the Celtics and Bucks. Tuesday night's game will tip at 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast nationally on TNT.
Rondo's absence has increased the burden on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics' two seemingly ageless franchise icons. Pierce, in his 15th season in the NBA, is averaging 19 points, six rebounds and 4.5 assists on 42 percent shooting while Garnett, in his 18th, is still averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and two assists on 49 percent shooting. Without a true point guard on their roster, Boston depends on the two to not only create their own shot, but create shots for the rest of their team.
Philadelphia had managed to stay afloat without Andrew Bynum for the first few months of the season, but their lack of high-level talent has caught up to them in February, resulting in Doug Collins' infamous rant in the aftermath of their loss to the Magic last week. However, with Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner still on hand, they have more than enough to catch the Celtics if they aren't up for Tuesday night's game.
Holiday vs. "The Pitbulls"
Perhaps the most intriguing individual matchup on Tuesday comes at point guard, where Boston has gone to the defensive-minded duo of Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee. Their relentless ball pressure has been a thorn in the side of elite point guards since Rondo's absence, most recently Stephen Curry, whom they held to a 6-of-22 shooting performance in their win last week over Golden State.
Holiday has been one of the few bright spots for Philadelphia this season, emerging as an All-Star in his fourth season in the NBA. He's the key to the 76ers offense, averaging 19 points, 8.5 assists and four rebounds a game on 45 percent shooting, and if the Celtics can disrupt his rhythm, Philadelphia probably won't be able to make up for it.
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