In two or three hours Sunday afternoon, the fortunes of the Celtics’ season changed, and perhaps their long-term future did, too, with the diagnosis of a serious knee injury to All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo experienced soreness working out before the Celtics’ 100-98 double-overtime win over the Heat at TD Garden, and when he went for a magnetic resonance imaging it revealed a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.
Rondo is expected to miss the rest of season; an NBA source said he will receive a second opinion to determine the extent of the damage.
The Celtics snapped a six-game losing streak by beating the Heat, but their season may have been irrevocably damaged. Coach Doc Rivers said the team was crushed at hearing of the loss of Rondo.
“Obviously, the Rondo news is pretty tough . . . I knew it before the game; no one else knew it,” Rivers said. “I just didn’t think it was any time to tell any of our guys that. I told them after the game. Pretty emotional in the locker room. I just told [the players]; I’m not sure what you can do.
“Rondo will be fine. He will just not be fine this year.”
Rivers said Rondo was complaining of a hamstring issue and team doctor Brian McKeon declared Rondo out for the game. The guard then went to New England Baptist Hospital for the MRI. According to Rivers, McKeon knew the extent of the injury from his early examination of Rondo and told Rivers, who had to keep the news from Rondo, who was in the locker room at halftime. Rondo had yet to get the official word then, but he apparently did soon after.
Rondo was apparently injured late in the Celtics’ 123-111 double-overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks Friday night at Philips Arena. Although he did not speak with the media Sunday, it appears he came down awkwardly attempting a floating jump shot in the second OT. He was limping slightly after the shot but continued to play.
After Friday night’s game, Rondo addressed the media and did not mention any knee injury. But concern arose when he worked out at the Garden.
“You got a lot of mixed emotions,” said forward Paul Pierce. “You wanna celebrate the win, but you feel for your teammate. Pretty much wherever he goes, we go. It’s hard knowing that he’s going to be out for the year. It’s a tough pill to swallow.
“The guys were really shocked, surprised. Because they didn’t really know. So everyone was really happy for the win. But it kind of like brought a dark cloud in this room when you heard the news. You know, we’re all brothers, we pull for each other each and every day, whether it’s Rondo or anybody across the league. You don’t like to see people get hurt. It’s just tough.”
The team hastily released the news during the third quarter after an ABC reporter got Rondo to acknowledge the injury. Scores of fans found out the news through Twitter on their cellphones, and the atmosphere at the Garden became eerie.
Rondo, in street clothes, walked down the tunnel with a slight limp during the second OT and received a raucous response when shown on the arena video screen. Flanked by security guards, Rondo told team officials who consoled him, “I’m OK, I’m OK.”
Because of the second opinion, a date for surgery has not been set.
Rondo, who was averaging 13.7 points, 11.1 assists, and 5.6 rebounds, told the team of his fate during the postgame cooling-off period in the locker room; most of his teammates had sensed something serious had occurred.
“It’s tough on everybody,” center Kevin Garnett said. “Young’un [Rondo] is becoming the heart and soul of this team. He’s coming into his own. He’s had some bumps in the road but we’re trying to be supportive for him. It was a blow, I’m not even going to lie, it was a blow. We was here, talking about the game and then he walked in, he was quiet and the staff came in and told us what was going on and it went quiet.”
Players said Garnett and Pierce talked with Rondo and encouraged him to take his time to recover and not risk his career by skipping steps in his rehabilitation.
“That’s the first thing I told him, ‘Do not play Superman,’ ” Garnett said. “I told him, ‘Don’t play hero, you’re a human being, take care of yourself.’ ”
The Celtics’ championship aspirations may be gone with Rondo’s injury but Rivers refused to concede the season. The Celtics are eighth in the Eastern Conference and have two significant wins — at New York against the Knicks and now Miami — without Rondo in the lineup.
Rivers wouldn’t say whether the club will seek a point guard through free agency or trade; for now he will rely on Leandro Barbosa, Courtney Lee, and Jason Terry to play point guard.
“That’s a blow, a huge blow for us,” Rivers said. “When something like this happens, we’ll find someone that’s already in our locker room that’s going to play terrific, and I have no idea who it is.”
When asked about the team’s chances of returning to the NBA Finals, Rivers was defiant.
“Well, you can write the obituary, I’m not,” he said. “You can go ahead. But I’m not. We won [Sunday], and so the way I look at it is, we’re going to stay in there.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.