The Boston Celtics can even their second-round NBA Playoff series against the Miami Heat at two games apiece with a victory Monday evening, but they may have to do it without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, a game-time decision after dislocating his left elbow in Game 3.
As a two-time All-Star and a leader, Rondo is of vital importance to Boston's hopes of knotting the series and ultimately advancing to their third Eastern Conference Finals in four seasons. That much is obvious to any hoops fan. What might be less obvious is the extent of his importance.
According to BasketballValue, with Rondo on the bench in the regular season, the Celtics were barely an average team, scoring just 100.08 points per 100 possessions and giving up 99.06 points per 100 possessions. But with him on the court, the Celtics' offense improve significantly (109.85 points per 100), while the defense only gets slightly worse (101.34), which can be explained by Rondo usually playing against other teams' starters.
Rondo's on/off splits in the postseason are even more pronounced; indeed, Boston is a ghastly 42.21 points per 100 possessions worse when Rondo sits. Tellingly, the Celtics have shot an incredible 78.9 percent on three-pointers against the Heat off Rondo assists, compared to 36.4 percent when he does not assist.
Rondo leads the Celtics in postseason minutes played, averaging 39.6 per game. Should he be unavailable Monday, Doc Rivers will have to fill that time with the likes of Delonte West and Carlos Arroyo. Though both players have their strengths--West's a dogged defender who can create his own shot, while Arroyo is a more prototypical, pass-first floor general with an okay mid-range jumper--neither can hope to duplicate Rondo's style or productivity, particularly when it comes to starting a transition scoring opportunity with a defensive board or a steal.
As such, the task falls to the Celtics' veteran stars to carry a bigger load, not just in the box score but in the huddle and on the sidelines.