BOSTON — One by one, the injuries hit the Boston Celtics: First Rajon Rondo, then Jared Sullinger, and finally Leandro Barbosa — all out for the season.
Instead of collapsing from the loss of their All-Star point guard and two key role players, though, the Celtics continued to win. With victories in eight of nine games heading into the All-Star break, Boston is a season-high four games above .500 and slowly improving its position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“We choose to live,” coach Doc Rivers said after a 71-69 victory against Chicago on Wednesday night in which the Celtics shot just 36.8 percent. “We’re not going to just roll over. And it’s very important for our guys to understand.”
With just 10 healthy players, the Celtics are expected to make a move — if only to have enough players for practice. But Rivers has cautioned his players not to expect a miracle trade that will remake the roster.
“We have enough guys and there’s no help coming,” he said. “This is who we are.”
The most decorated franchise in NBA history, the Celtics won their unprecedented 17th championship in 2008 and ever since then they’ve been disproving critics who say they’re too old to make another run.
They went back to the NBA finals in 2010 and then lost in back-to-back years to the Miami Heat, including a seven-game series in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. This year’s team, which got only marginally younger when Jason Terry replaced Ray Allen, was written off both before the season and again when Rondo tore his ACL.
Sullinger (back surgery) and Barbosa (ACL) were also lost — in the next two weeks.
“I know everybody thought we were going to tank because Rondo and Sully went out, but we’ve been fighting for those guys and ourselves. And that’s all you can ask,” center Kevin Garnett said. “With that, I’m pleased. I’m not pleased with where we are (compared) to where we could be. But with everything that’s been involved this year, we’ll take it.”
With the soon-to-be-37 Garnett and the 35-year-old Paul Pierce now leading the team, the Celtics played back-to-back games last week before going to triple-overtime against Denver on Sunday. They were in Charlotte on Monday and then back at home on Wednesday night for the Bulls.
“The last four to five days have been exhausting for me. Mentally more than physical,” said Garnett, who played 47 minutes against the Nuggets. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.”
Rivers said he had planned to sit Garnett out of Wednesday night’s game against Chicago, but gave in to temptation and played him 26 minutes. Garnett, who won’t have a chance to rest over the All-Star break because he is playing in the game, said he didn’t think it would be right to rest when everyone else was tired, too.
“I’ve seen everybody playing through everything, and I’m no different from that,” he said. “Paul’s tired, everybody’s tired, and no one’s full of energy right now, so I felt like that was unfair. If he wasn’t going to give everyone the night off, then that wasn’t an option.”
Garnett did say that this weekend “is definitely my last All-Star game,” even though he has two years remaining on his contract. Garnett would not elaborate, and general manager Danny Ainge told the Boston Herald on Thursday that Garnett had not discussed retirement.
“Y’all don’t know what I know,” said Garnett, who is averaging 15 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. “Let’s just put it like this: I’m more than grateful for going. I’m not going to act like I’ve got more All-Star games in me. So I’m just going to actually enjoy this one with friends and family. That’s what I meant.”