Don't trade Kevin Garnett just yet, Danny Ainge.
Amid speculation that the Boston Celtics are ready to blow up their current core of players in the wake of Rajon Rondo's season-ending ACL tear, it might be interesting to note that the 17-time NBA champions are actually playing better in the absence of their best player.
How? Even in the absence of Rondo, Celtics players are finding ways to replicate his numbers as a group. This makes them a more unpredictable team, and thus, harder to beat.
Sunday's 106-104 win over the Los Angeles Clippers was a prime example of how the Celtics' bench players, especially their guards, have risen to the occasion in Rondo's absence. Jason Terry, who has averaged 2.4 assists per game this year, had six against the Clippers; Leandro Barbosa, averaging 5.2 points per game in 11.8 minutes, had 14 in 21 minutes.
In the past four games, Barbosa has averaged 10.5 points per game in 23.2 minutes, while Terry has had an even four assists per game. Jeff Green averaged 9.9 points per game this year, but he's had 13.5 in the past four games.
In short, the ball is getting to different players who are getting more minutes, and teams are struggling to defend them because they haven't planned for as diverse of an offense.
But what of Pierce and Garnett, the Celtics' two top stars without Rondo?
For one, Pierce has filled Rondo's role of taking in defensive rebounds excellently. This year, the two have combined for 9.9 defensive rebounds per game; Pierce had 13, 10 and 11 in Boston's first three games, wins over Miami, Sacramento and Orlando, respectively.
Meanwhile, Garnett has seen a slight increase in rebounding, but he's also seen slight increases in assists and steals. He's averaged 2.2 assists per game and 1.11 steals this season, but in the past four games, those numbers have risen to 3.0 and 1.75, respectively.
Rondo's most obvious trait is as a playmaker, as he was averaging 11.1 assists per game at the time of his injury. But the Celtics can still pass the ball, with a different star picking up the slack every game.
In his last 14 games of the season, Rondo led both teams in assists 13 times; in the past four games, a Celtic has still had a game high three times—Pierce twice and Garnett once.
In the wake of Rondo's injury, the Celtics' four-game winning streak without Rondo stands out. That being said, it's not the biggest indicator of the team's success without him. After all, Boston won six games in a row from January 4 to 14 before losing six in a row between winning streaks, so the team has been somewhat bipolar as of late.
The real question will be if the Celtics can maintain their unpredictability over the stretch run.
With Jared Sullinger also out for the season, durability is an issue as well, as one more key injury could be the end of this team's chances. And with Ainge's tenure as general manager characterized by a willingness to make big moves—remember the Kendrick Perkins trade that brought in Green two years ago—there's a chance that this Boston squad could be broken up at any time.
But enjoy them while they last. Because as good as Rondo is, he's only one player. Players can only win so much, but teams can win a lot more. And this Celtics team is learning how to do exactly that without him.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.
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