BOSTON (AP) — Rajon Rondo was having his best season for the struggling Boston Celtics.
He's averaging career highs in points and rebounds. He leads the NBA in assists and triple-doubles by big margins. He was voted the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference in next month's All-Star game.
"He's our guy that's orchestrating everything for us," guard Courtney Lee said. "He's our leader."
Rondo is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that requires surgery. So coach Doc Rivers must find a replacement from a group short on point-guard experience amid a widespread feeling that the Celtics' already shaky playoff prospects are over.
He doesn't believe it.
"You can write the obituary," Rivers told reporters after Sunday's 100-98, double-overtime win over the Miami Heat. "I'm not. You can go ahead, but I'm not. We won (Sunday) and so the way I look at it is we're going to stay in there."
Lee could fill in at Rondo's position. Or Jason Terry. Or Leandro Barbosa. Or, less likely, the Celtics could sign a free agent or trade for a point guard. Their first practice without Rondo is Tuesday.
"When something like this happens, someone will find someone that's already in our locker room that's going to play terrific," Rivers said. "And I have no idea who it is."
Sunday's victory moved the Celtics (21-23) ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers by 2½ games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Their first full game since Rondo was ruled out for the season is Wednesday night at home against the Sacramento Kings.
Rivers' players needed a break after their second straight double-overtime game and their third game in four days so he gave them Monday off.
In the first two — losses to the New York Knicks in Boston and the Hawks in Atlanta — Rondo had triple-doubles to bring his season total to five. No other player, not even LeBron James, has more than two. But the Celtics' losing streak reached six games, their longest in six seasons.
On Sunday, Rondo was a late scratch with what the team first said was a hyperextended knee suffered late in the Atlanta game.
But after MRI results were read, the Celtics announced that he had a torn ACL.
Still, they overcame fatigue and Rondo's absence to beat James and the defending NBA champions.
"That wasn't our mindset going out there, showing that we can play the game without him," Lee said. "It was us coming together and fighting till the end. ... It just shows that we are capable of playing without him."
They've done it six times this season and are 3-3. With Rondo, they're 18-20.
But the seven-year veteran is the most important player on a team with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, still outstanding but past their primes.