BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics filed into their locker room, riding the momentum of a double-overtime victory against the Miami Heat. Rajon Rondo hadn't played; he was a late scratch to receive an MRI for a hyperextended right knee. Some of the Celtics had heard rumblings of a more severe injury during the game but brushed it off as a rumor.
Once they entered the locker room, Rondo delivered the news. He informed his teammates he had suffered a torn right ACL on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks and would require season-ending surgery.
"It's a blow, man. I'm not even going to front, it was a blow," said Kevin Garnett. "We were in here just talking about the game, and then he walks in and 'Do (Rondo is) really hype. He was quiet and the staff came in and told us what's going on."
The mood changed in an instant, as Courtney Lee demonstrated to media after the game.
"I'm going to do this for you, remember this," Lee said, then let out a loud sigh of disappointment.
Rondo is the Celtics floor general, averaging 13.7 points, 11.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game this season. He also plays a major role in the locker room.
"It was hard," said Avery Bradley. "I could see it on his face. You didn't know what he was going to say. When he said it, everybody's head just went down. We went from cheering to being sad."
Lee further described the atmosphere, "It was emotional in here when he told everybody. KG got everybody out of the locker room, talked a little bit, expressed what needed to be done. It was emotional, like I said. Other than that, we've got to move forward. It's sad news, but we've got to fulfill his shoes the best way we can. That's just going out and playing hard."
The element of surprise enhanced the sudden disappointment. Rondo had played through the injury Friday night and warmed up prior the game on Sunday. He wasn't removed from the lineup until close to tip off.
"I was definitely shocked by the news," said Paul Pierce. "I thought he was suiting up tonight. We didn't learn until a couple minutes before the game that he was getting an MRI."
He continued, "You're on an emotional high in the locker room and then you see that Rondo's probably going to be out for the season. You have a lot of mixed emotions in here. You want to celebrate the win, but you know you feel for your teammate, a leader. 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 Celtics locker room was more somber than the Heat, who had been defeated, 100-98. The Celtics knew they lost far more.
"It's pretty sad," said Leandro Barbosa. "He's a big key for our team and it's tough. It's tough to take it, but we are a group and we're going to support him in anything that happened to him. I'm sure he will be cheering for us, too. But we love him and we got his back."
The Celtics will search for answers, taking the rest of the season game by game. They know they cannot replace Rondo, they will have to find ways to win without him.
Said Garnett, "He's becoming the heart and soul of this team."