CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Boston Celtics didn't have the Big Three, and didn't need the Big Three. On Sunday, point guard Rajon Rondo was plenty all by himself.
With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all missing the game, Rondo beat the Charlotte Bobcats almost single-handedly with 20 points, 16 assists and six rebounds in a 94-82 Boston victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.
This was the third game in as many nights for the Celtics, who improved to 36-25 despite being so shorthanded. Coach Doc Rivers decided to sit Garnett, a 13-season veteran, to guard against fatigue. Pierce missed the game with a jammed big left toe suffered in Saturday's victory over the New Jersey Nets. Allen has missed the past three games with ongoing soreness in his right ankle.
So Rondo took over, scoring or assisting on 24 of the Celtics' 39 baskets, continuously setting up teammates Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley (22 points each).
Rondo played the game's first 32 minutes before finally taking a rest.
"I didn't want to come out. I just wanted to win and get it over with,'' said Rondo. "I tried for 48 minutes (playing 43). I wanted to see where I was conditioning-wise.''
Rondo outplayed the Bobcats tandem of D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker at the point. Those two combined for 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting and 13 assists.
"He can see everything,'' Augustin said of Rondo. "They don't play up on him because nobody thinks he can shoot. But in a way that's an advantage (because it provides him passing lanes). You get too close and he goes right by you.
"He's always looking for somebody. He finds people when they're open. That makes everyone else happy and that's what a point guard is supposed to do.''
The Bobcats lost their 16th straight game, tying a team record set earlier this season. At 7-52, they can do no better than share the worst record in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, who beat them four straight this season.
Gerald Henderson had 22 points for the Bobcats, who still must win one of their last seven games to avoid the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
As impressive as Rondo was, Rivers also singled out reserve center Greg Stiemsma for praise. Filling in for Garnett, Stiemsma finished with eight points, five rebounds and six blocked shots, helping the Celtics hold the Bobcats to 41 percent shooting.
"Greg defensively is a force. He's a great shot-blocker. I don't think the officials even know that yet,'' Rivers said.
Rivers said before the game he'd be happy if Stiemsma just slowed the time it takes him to foul out.
"He was great. He had one silly foul tonight on an offensive rebound. Other than that, you can make a case for all of his fouls. A lot of them were just good blocks,'' Rivers said.
Rivers never feared his team would fall apart in the absence of three stars.
"I keep saying our locker room is as tight as maybe it's ever been,'' Rivers said. "They cheer for each other. They pull for each other.
"Our guys, you could see in their demeanor in the locker room. I didn't know if we were going to win tonight, but I knew we were going to play hard.''
Garnett and Pierce, already in New York for Tuesday's game against the Knicks, were cheering from afar.
"I already have texts from both. I don't know where they were at watching. I probably don't want to know where they were watching. But they both watched it and were very happy about what they saw,'' Rivers said.
Bobcats coach Paul Silas hoped his team could push the tempo against the Celtics, to prey on the fatigue of three road games in as many nights. But the Bobcats actually had fewer fast-break points (12-10) than the Celtics.
"We didn't run well because we didn't rebound and defend well,'' said Silas. "They penetrated and got lots of layups and backdoors. We've got to see (both) man and ball and we were late a lot.''
Despite losing their three most prominent players, the Celtics led by as many as 12 points in the first half and had a 52-49 margin at the half.
Rondo had 16 points and 11 assists at the half, so he scored or assisted on 17 of Boston's 21 first-half baskets. He continuously worked the pick-and-roll with power forward Bass, who finished the first half with 11 points and five boards.
Defensively, the Celtics did a great job of protecting the rim, so the Bobcats were heavily dependent on jump shots all night, being outscored in the lane 50-34.
Notes: The Bobcats signed small forward Jamario Moon for the rest of the season. Moon, who's played for four other NBA franchises, was with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the development league, averaging 17.1 points. The Bobcats needed immediate help at the position, with Corey Maggette out the rest of the season, but the team also sees Moon as someone they might want back next season...Rivers said the plan was always to rest Garnett in the third game on consecutive nights. They planned to play Pierce against the Bobcats until his jammed his left big toe late in Saturday's victory over the New Jersey Nets....The Bobcats replaced power forward Byron Mullens in the starting lineup with DJ White. Mullens has struggled the past three games defensively. He was particularly lit up by Detroit Pistons forward Jason Maxiell Friday.