Rajon Rondo is the Eastern Conference's assist leader, showcasing his ability in back-to-back victories over the Washington Wizards to start this month.
It's no surprise, therefore, that the Boston Celtics looked lost offensively in their first game without him.
The Celtics are unsure if they will have Rondo back Sunday on the road when they try to improve to 3-0 against the Wizards this season.
Boston (5-9) matched its lowest scoring output in eight seasons in Friday's 79-71 home loss to Phoenix. Rondo, averaging 9.4 assists, sat out because of a wrist injury suffered in Wednesday's win over Toronto.
Coach Doc Rivers did not put a timetable on Rondo's return, hoping he will be available Sunday. Without their point guard, the Celtics struggled to get into an offensive rhythm.
"We should be better than that," Rivers said. "It's on me. If one guy doesn't play, you should be able to play through it."
Ray Allen led Boston with 14 points but had a season-high five turnovers, while Paul Pierce added 12 points and a team-best six assists but was just 5 of 14 from the field.
"He creates so much for our offense," said Pierce about Rondo. "He's our floor general, lot of things we do go through him so it was just kind of trying to change up some things."
Second-year guard Avery Bradley got his first NBA start and had 10 points and one assist in a career-high 33 minutes.
"We had Avery Bradley out there, but you know it was valuable experience for him to go out there and play the minutes he did tonight," Pierce added.
Rondo averaged 13.5 assists as Boston posted a pair of eight-point victories in a home-and-home set with Washington (2-13) on Jan. 1-2. The Celtics' lone road victory in five tries was their 94-86 win at the Verizon Center to open that set as Rondo had a triple-double.
Boston is looking to fare better against JaVale McGee, who averaged 16.5 points and 14.0 rebounds in the first two matchups. McGee should be a concern after the Celtics had trouble with another unheralded big man Friday as Marcin Gortat had 24 points and 12 boards.
Washington remains the league's worst team as it wraps up a five-game homestand. The Wizards feel they are improving after beating Oklahoma City 105-102 on Wednesday and losing 108-104 to Denver on Friday.
"We're playing better than a week ago," coach Flip Saunders said.
These teams are among the worst in the NBA in scoring, with Boston averaging 88.9 points and Washington 88.7.
The Wizards, however, have upped the tempo to average 105.0 points in their last three games after failing to reach 100 in their first 12 contests.
"I think we're a more up-and-down team," point guard John Wall said. "Halfcourt we're OK, we're not a great halfcourt team. We go 1-on-1 too much."
Wall is averaging 15.0 points and 8.0 assists against Boston this season. He had a season-high 10 assists Friday.
The improved offense has resulted in better production from top scorer Nick Young, averaging 22.3 points on this homestand.