BOSTON -- Nearly all the signs on Wednesday night suggested that the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat rivalry was dead.
Start with a midweek, non-national-TV billing, sprinkle in Boston's overhauled roster and a loss-filled season. Heck, even LeBron James elected to snack on a McFlurry while resting his achy back rather than suit up at TD Garden.
Then Rajon Rondo hit the floor, glaring at everybody in a red uniform like a bull at a matador, and proceeded to take over the way he used to, as if the calendar said May instead of March.
Rondo came up a point shy of a triple-double while putting up nine points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds over 38 minutes, 47 seconds. Even while tip-toeing through foul trouble, he took over the game late, hitting a pair of runners over the final 104 seconds as Boston emerged with a 101-96 triumph that snapped a four-game losing streak.
He was lying. These games always mean more. The rivalry has changed for sure, but when the Celtics put together their 2013-14 season DVD (probably not going to be a big seller), it'll be decorated with highlights from the three meetings between the Celtics and Heat -- but especially the bookend games that helped Boston steal the season series.
Jeff Green provided maybe the highlight of the campaign when he hit an impossible buzzer-beating 3-pointer over James during a November trip to Miami. Wednesday's win wasn't nearly as heart-stopping, but it was no less savored.
The Celtics could have lost their past 19 games of the season and few observers would have even blinked. Heck, many Celtics fans would have celebrated the additional pingpong balls generated by such a feat.
But Boston coaches and players are so darn competitive that most losses burn them like an ulcer. And in each of their past three outings, the Celtics had rallied from big deficits to give themselves a chance to win each game, only to watch a brief lapse in execution send them to defeat again.
So forgive Celtics coach Brad Stevens if he was looking for a bottle of TUMS to chug when Chris Andersen's wide-open putback dunk tied the game at 94 with 3:38 to play.