Rondo injury puts weight back on Pierce's, Garnett's shoulders

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Rondo injury puts weight back on Pierce's, Garnett's shoulders

TORONTO Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are by anyone's definition, the graybeards of this Boston Celtics team.

And yet as they look to get their season back on track, no Celtics players seem to be carrying more of the load than those two.

At a time when their NBA contemporaries are adapting to a diminished role as bit players, these two continue to take center stage. And their efforts have not been in vain, not with the Celtics riding a four-game winning streak heading into Wednesday's game at Toronto.

Boston's bevy of guards have stepped up in absence of Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL, out for the season). But the play of Garnett and Pierce has been just as important.

"I'm having fun," said Pierce. "I'm playing a game I enjoy playing. My responsibility has always been heavy since I put on a Celtics uniform."

But lately, Pierce has been called upon to not just be the C's best scorer, but also impact the game as a passer and on the boards.

During the four-game winning streak, Pierce has averaged 17.3 points which is a slight dip from his scoring average this season. But his rebounds (9.8) and assists (6.3) during that span are both significantly up, which is exactly what the Celtics want - and need - from the Captain.

As for Garnett, his play is not only appreciated by his teammates but also by fans across the globe which is evident by them voting him in as a starter in the Feb. 17 All-Star game in Houston.

Known for his ability to impact the game in just about every area, he has indeed been Boston's Mr. Everything during their current winning streak.

In the last four games, Garnett has averaged 15.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, three assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.

Such across-the-board production is impressive for any player in the NBA, let alone a 36-year-old like Garnett who continues to defy Father Time and play at a relatively high level.

"It's what it is," Garnett said. "Both of us have been in this league; we've had a lot of responsibility. It's kind of fell on our shoulders."

At the start of the season, there was a concerted effort on the part the Celtics - Pierce and Garnett included - to make it known that this was Rondo's team. But with Rondo out for the rest of the season, there was indeed an increase in responsibility both on and off the floor, placed on the shoulders of Garnett and Pierce.

"This is familiar territory for the both of us," Garnett said. "We don't really have a choice but to pick it up."

Garnett added, "other than that, just trying to make sure everybody plays the right way, lead the right way and be the example of everybody."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that Pierce is being asked to do more for the team with Rondo out. It hasn't resulted in more minutes played, however, which has been something Rivers has been monitoring all season.

This season, Pierce is averaging 33.7 minutes per game. During the team's four-game winning streak, Pierce's minutes are up to 36.3 which includes a double-overtime win over Miami in which he played a season-high 49 minutes.

As for Garnett, his minutes have also remained relatively the same (30.1 this season, 31 in last four games) during the team's winning streak even as the responsibilities for both him and Pierce have been on the rise.

"That's not that taxing," Rivers said when asked about their increased responsibility. "Hell, you're going to play basketball. You might as well be responsible for it."

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

WALTHAM, Mass. – When it comes to NBA standings, no Celtic pays closer attention to it than Isaiah Thomas.
 
But the 5-foot-9 All-Star is quick to say that while he’s aware of what’s happening with other teams record-wise, Thomas, like his teammates, isn’t obsessed with it, even with the Celtics (48-26) now in first place in the East following Cleveland’s loss at San Antonio on Monday.
 
“It’s a good feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s still not the end of the year; anything can happen. It’s a nice feeling to be the number one seed for once, but we just have to continue to control what we can control.”

The fact that Boston is even in position to finish with the best record in the East is amazing when you consider injuries and illnesses have forced them to use 13 different starting lineups this season.
 
And the preferred starting five of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson has played together 31 times and posted an impressive 24-7 record.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been consistent in his message that while having the best record in the East is nice, he’s more consumed with the team continuing to improve.
 
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Stevens said of being in first place. “The whole idea is to make progress, get better every day and stay in the moment. You do that if you’re in last place trying to build up or whether you’re in a position where you’re fighting for seeding. Ultimately, we’ve been able to grow and get a little bit better. But I still think we can play a lot better. That’s where my focus is.”
 
And the same holds true for his players. Thomas knows how unusual this season has been for the Celtics, who continue finding ways to win despite frequently being short-handed.
 
The latest example of that involves forward Jonas Jerebko, who is questionable for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee because of a sore left knee that limited him in Tuesday’s practice.
 
“It’s a long season. A lot of things can happen whether they be good or bad and we know that,” Thomas said. “We just try to withstand the storm we’ve had a few times this year, and continue to try and stay as positive as possible and we’ve done that. We’re in a good position right now. We just have to continue to take care of business.”
  
And that means steadily improving while piling up the wins, particularly against teams such as the Bucks (37-36), who are among a handful of teams that could potentially be Boston’s first-round opponent.
 
Milwaukee comes in having won 11 of its past 14 games.

“It makes the game that much more important,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “Just like the Miami game. We want to let the teams know now, they go up against us in the playoffs, it’s no mercy. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to bring it every single night. We’re going to play Celtics basketball every single night. Them knowing that, we can scare a lot of teams if we’re playing the right way.”

Jerebko questionable for Wednesday against Bucks

Jerebko questionable for Wednesday against Bucks

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Celtics have spent most of this season playing short-handed and Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee will potentially be another one of those games.
 
Veteran forward Jonas Jerebko has a sore left knee and is considered questionable for the Bucks’ game.
 
“Jonas went through about half of [Tuesday’s] practice,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
 
Jerebko has missed two games this season due to illness.
 
Because of Milwaukee’s length at seemingly every position, Jerebko’s ability to play both forward positions will be something the Celtics will surely miss if he’s unable to play.
 
This season, Jerebko has appeared in 69 games while averaging 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 35.0 percent on 3’s.