BOSTON (AP) — The outlook was bleak.
Rajon Rondo's season-ending knee injury was certain to hurt the Celtics hopes for a playoff berth. How could Boston possibly survive without its offensive catalyst, the NBA leader in assists and triple-doubles and one of the best rebounding guards in the league?
But not only have the Celtics survived, they've thrived.
They're 6-0 since Rondo tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, including wins over LeBron James and the Miami Heat and Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers. They've adjusted quickly to coach Doc Rivers' new approach now that Rondo isn't controlling the ball, waiting to make a pass or drive to the basket:
Shoot it if you're open, pass it quickly if you're not and spread the court to get more unchallenged looks at the basket.
And they're 4-0 since losing another key player for the season when rookie Jared Sullinger, an outstanding rebounder, underwent back surgery.
"Our guys just think they're good," Rivers said after the most lopsided win in the stretch, 116-95 over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night. "They didn't ever doubt themselves. Others did, and they should have, really. When you lose guys like Rondo and Sully, I get that. But the guys in the locker room, they like what they are."
After Rondo's last game, the Celtics held the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, just 2 games ahead of Philadelphia. Thursday's win left them in seventh place with a 26-23 record, 4½ games ahead of the 76ers and 1½ behind the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks.
"We're not going to make excuses, who's out there, who's not out there," Paul Pierce said after scoring 24 points against the Lakers. "We've got a lot of talent in this (locker) room. The rest of the teams are going to take it how they're going to take it. We're fine with flying under the radar (with) no expectations and everybody doesn't expect anything of us, but we're going to keep moving along like we're moving and trying to get better."
In their six games since losing Rondo, the Celtics have outscored opponents by an average of 102.8-92.8 and hit 49.1 percent of their shots.
Before his injury, they were outscored 96.4-95.0 and made only 45.7 percent of their shots.
But as well as the Celtics have played, other factors have contributed to their success.
Of the six wins, five came at home and four were against teams with records of 23-27 or worse. Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Chris Paul of the Clippers missed the games against the Celtics with injuries. On Sunday, the Denver Nuggets bring an eight-game winning streak into TD Garden.
The Celtics did, of course, beat a healthy Heat team in double overtime, 100-98, to start the streak. And the loss of Rondo has given other players opportunities.