Let’s face it: as fans, we knew. We didn’t need someone to tell us. We didn’t need confirmation from Rajon Rondo himself. We knew he was hurt. For the past two or three weeks, it’s been as obvious as Nenad Krstic’s receding hair line.
Rondo has been battling a right pinkie finger injury, he finally admitted to reporters after the New Orleans win. During the game, Rondo aggravated the injury and was seen with a bag of ice on his right hand. He (for the seventh straight game) fell short of double digit assists, notching only five last night. His league-leading average now stands at 11.5, or just 0.2 assists per game ahead of Steve Nash. While Rondo sat on the bench nursing his injury, Delonte West led a Celtics’ comeback.
“My finger, my hand went numb,” Rondo told CSNNE. “I was a little concerned about it, going back in.”
Are we sure it’s just the pinkie injury? Nothing else? Rondo’s been a step (or two, or three) slow the past two or three weeks, settling for jump shots rather than driving all the way to the hoop. But maybe that’s just hesitancy caused by the pinkie finger pain. Rondo must fear contact when he drives into the middle of the lane. He must fear swooping into passing lanes because of that finger. He must fear soaring for rebounds like he used to. Or maybe something else is hurting, too.
Whether it’s just the pinkie finger or a combination of maladies that are bothering Rondo, it appears he’s not going to sit out. For better or worse, it appears Rondo’s going to play at half-mast until he gets better. He’s going to struggle until his health improves, and the other Celtics are going to carry his weight in the meantime (or collapse trying, as they did against New Jersey and Houston). I assume Rondo’s still playing because a) his injury isn’t as bad as he’s made it look, and/or b) the Celtics believe earning the top seed is a necessity, Rondo’s health be damned.
Can the Celtics win a title without Rondo functioning at full speed? Perhaps. But in a seven-game series, he’s normally their greatest strength. He’s the straw that stirs the drink, as they say, and the Celtic who causes the most sleepless nights for opposing coaches. If he plays like he has lately — like Bimbo Coles strung out on coke — common sense tells me the Celtics have little shot. The Eastern Conference is too difficult this season. It’s like a minefield, with the Orlando Magic — who have made at least the Eastern Conference Finals each of the past two years — considered the “easy” second-round draw.
I’d never count the Celtics out, because they have taught me better. Think about last season, that carpet ride that ended one win shy of magical. Think about the season before, when the Celtics had Orlando on the ropes even without Kevin Garnett. Think about the season before that, when the Celtics won a championship even though they were thrown together in a single offseason. But winning a championship without a full-speed Rondo would leave me surprised, if not shocked.
Perhaps the Celtics are asking too much of Rondo, right now. They’re asking him to recover from his injury (injuries?) while also helping them to victory; to lead the way while simultaneously finding his own way. He could use a rest, we can clearly see, but the Celtics have apparently decided they cannot afford to give him one. At the very least, they have apparently decided he will not get one. And while I surely know less about the injury than Rondo, Doc Rivers and the Celtics training staff, I have a haunting suspicion this decision to continue playing Rondo could prove costly down the road.
I hope I’m wrong.