In a world of scripted drama and reality shows that are no such thing, uncertainty and the unexpected still exist in the sporting arena. There is no better example of that right now than the Boston Celtics.
Who would have thought the Celtics would be more compelling, intriguing, and riveting to watch after losing Rajon Rondo and the real hope of raising Banner No. 18?
Notice that none of the adjectives used about the Celtics sans Rondo was “better.” The Celtics are not better without one of the league’s elite point guards, and Rondo will be sorely missed in the playoffs, when matchups and weaknesses are magnified in a seven-game series. The idea that over the long haul the Celtics are better off without their remarkable point man is illogical.
But watching a team that has become the embodiment of Celtic Pride on a nightly basis has become one of the unexpected joys of the winter. The Celtics are an eminently rootable team, the anti-Red Sox, full of character, resilience, and accountability. They refuse to give in or give up on the championship chase, as quixotic as it may be.
Their play is a welcome distraction from the fact that the long-term outlook for the team is murkier than the Charles River used to be. Planning in sports is often a futile exercise. If it were not, then perhaps Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant would be in green today.
It’s hard to know where the Celtics are going long-term; at some point, they will have to accept life without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. But Garnett and Pierce haven’t broken down, and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge didn’t break them up at the trade deadline.
Garnett’s ride-or-die demeanor and no-trade clause factored into that decision, but so did the fact that the Celtics don’t really have a better plan.
The reason we’re now a half-dozen years into this one is that a viable, appealing alternative strategy has yet to emerge in a league where geography trumps history.
This was most certainly not the basketball blueprint the Green had in mind when they started their season in Miami Oct. 30.
No part of Ainge’s plan for the 2012-13 season called for Terrence Williams, D.J. White, and Jordan Crawford to be in uniform or Rondo, Jared Sullinger, and Leandro Barbosa to be out for the season with injuries on the first day of March.
The plan was for Rondo to take the reins and for coach Doc Rivers to lessen the load and the minutes of Hall of Famers-in-waiting Garnett and Pierce. The Celtics were supposed to be a team in transition.
Instead, Pierce and Garnett are defying the NBA actuarial tables and the post-Rondo injury requiems for the season issued by yours truly and others.
The Celtics are not winning a championship unless LeBron James’s pregame dunk routine results in a calamity, and no responsible, hardcore hoops devotee would want that.
But it’s going to be fun to watch this defiant group jockey for playoff position over the final 25 games of the season, starting tonight at TD Garden against the Golden State Warriors.
The Celtics, currently the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference at 30-27, have gone 10-4 since Jan. 27, the day Rondo was declared done for the year with a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee. They have regained their defensive identity with additional minutes for Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley.
Boston’s defensive rating — the points they allow per 100 possessions — has dipped from 100.6 to 97.2.
Opponents’ effective field goal percentage, a statistic that adjusts for 3-point shots being more valuable than 2-point field goals, has dipped from 49 percent to 46.2 percent.
Before Rondo’s torn ACL, Celtics opponents shot 40 percent on shots from 5 to 9 feet, according to NBA.com stats.
Since then, opponents have shot 30 percent on those, which is the second-best defensive percentage in the league. (The 76ers are holding opponents to 29.9 percent.)
More surprisingly, the Celtics’ offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) has increased from 99.8 to 102.6 in the past 14 games. The ball no longer sticks at times as if it had double-sided tape on it.
Part of this season was about figuring out how the pieces fit moving forward. The Rondo injury robbed the Celtics of that.
But the silver lining has been watching players such as Jeff Green re-establish their value — both to the Celtics and the rest of the league. Green was shooting 42.7 percent from the field before Rondo went down, a remarkably low number considering he was playing with the leading playmaker in the NBA.
Over the last 14 games, Green is shooting 51.4 percent from the field and has boosted his scoring average from 9.6 points per game to 14.8.
He is still maddeningly inconsistent, dropping 31 points one game against Phoenix, and two games later against Utah inexplicably turning into a basketball bystander by passing up a wide-open corner jumper in overtime that led to a shot-clock violation.
What lies beyond these final 25 games and a playoff berth for the Celtics is a lot of uncertainty. The summer could bring the dissolution of the Pierce-Garnett union, an alliance that has already outlived its expected shelf life.
The New Big Three Plan was a stroke of genius by Ainge. Duplicating it will be incredibly difficult.
The Next Plan might not be as inspired as this one.
The Plan for now should be to simply sit back and enjoy a team that, like its leader, Garnett, bleeds green.