BOSTON — Sometimes, the schedule can provide relief for a team that is going through a tough time.
This is one of those times for the Boston Celtics.
Boston beat Miami in double overtime last Sunday, with Rajon Rondo out and the players learning after the game he would be gone for the year with a knee injury.
As Doc Rivers’ team tried to get used to the thought of its floor general being gone, the schedule sent 17-30 Sacramento and 14-31 Orlando to town.
The Celtics breezed past the Kings Wednesday and then, Friday night, after learning rookie Jared Sullinger would also be gone for the year, Boston cruised to a 97-84 victory over the woeful and Magic.
Sullinger underwent surgery Friday, while Rondo is reportedly seeking a second opinion before he gets his operation. He was in the building on crutches Friday night.
Meanwhile, the three straight wins have the Celtics back to .500 (23-23) and they may well be getting another break Sunday, when the Los Angeles Clippers come calling. Chris Paul (knee) missed his sixth straight game Friday night, a blowout loss in Toronto, and is anything but a sure thing for Sunday.
Paul Pierce delivered 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Jeff Green came off the bench with 17 points, Kevin Garnett had 14 points and 10 rebounds and the Celtics had six players reach double figures for the second straight game.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries and we’ve got guys stepping up,” said Pierce, who is doing much of the ballhandling with Rondo gone. “That’s the way we’ve got to be the rest of the season.”
Rivers, asked how his team responded to two main cogs being out, said, “I thought they responded the way they should … guys are out and it and it’s not like it’s a maybe; it’s a sure thing, and guys understand other guys are going to get a shot.”
The Magic lost their eighth in a row, their 19th in the last 21 games — and the seventh straight to the Celtics. Orlando, which plays in the Southeast Division, is 0-13 against the Atlantic.
The Boston bench, up 89-54 in the previous two games, outscored its Orlando counterpart 43-25 — Orlando making up ground in that area at garbage time, when the Magic cut a 23-point deficit down to the final score.
J.J Redick had 15 points, Nikola Vucevic 14 points and 14 rebounds and rookie Andrew Nicholson 14 points and 10 boards for Orlando.
Orlando’s Jameer Nelson left the game in the first half with a left forearm contusion and did not return. He said after the game he “took an elbow to the forearm.”
While the loss of Rondo was sudden and unexpected, the Celtics knew Sullinger had a back that could eventually need surgery; and the back is the reason he lasted until the 21st pick in the draft.
“We knew this could happen,” Rivers said. “We knew it a month before the draft that this could happen and at some point probably would happen. We were hoping it’d be a summer thing rather than the middle of the season, but it happened now. He was playing great.
“I think the good news is we know he can play and we know he’ll be a very good player. In the long run, this will make him healthier.”
The Celtics trailed by six in the first quarter, but used a 20-5 run to take the lead for good. The Magic closed a 13-point deficit to three with 5:04 left in the third quarter, but the Celtics used an 11-2 burst to regain control.
“It was unbelievable. We put our subs back in the game, made it competitive,” said Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn. “They made shots, went on a little run and we couldn’t answer back.”
NOTES: Celtics GM Danny Ainge on his roster going forward without Rondo and Sullinger: “I don’t know any of that yet. I’m not sure. We have three weeks before the trade deadline ends, and we’re trying to maintain flexibility. By that time, by the trade deadline date, we will have a full (15-man) roster, one way or another.” Asked why Sullinger had surgery so soon, Ainge said, “He’s just not going to be effective, managing the pain was not a good option for us the rest of this year. And the uncertainty. His age, youth; I think all those things are factors. It’s tough because I feel like we are still a good team (even without Rondo). (Losing Sullinger) was the tough blow. We’ll just have to find a different way to win.” … The Celtics activated Fab Melo and he made his NBA debut playing the final 2:38. … Pierce told the Boston Globe suspended Players Association head Billy Hunter should be ousted. “With all the accusations, it’s time for a change,” Pierce said. … The teams combined to go 7 for 37 from 3-point range. … Orlando rookie Kyle O’Quinn finished the game with 11 points and three rebounds in seven minutes … The Magic continue their five-game road trip at Philadelphia Saturday night. … Garnett played in his 1,301st game, 13th all-time in the NBA. He needs three games to pass Elvin Hayes for 12th and eight to go by Buck Williams and into 11th. … A broken foot suffered in New York on Wednesday night kept Orlando’s Glen Davis from making another return to Boston, where he began his NBA career. “Big Baby” is slated to miss 8-12 weeks after Thursday surgery. Broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn tweeted: “I think he put on a little weight. … It’s like we used to say, he’s always one hamburger away from obscurity.”