"It was a very physical game, both teams scrapping, playing real hard," Pierce said after the Celtics dropped Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series to the Hawks 83-74. "We just lost our composure a little bit, but that's how the playoffs are. You're on the road. You can't expect anything to go your way. You've just got to basically battle through it."
Rondo certainly scrapped and played hard, leading an uneven Celtics offense with 20 points and 11 assists, and the Celtics definitely did not get a call to go their way when a manifest jump ball was instead signaled as a foul on Brandon Bass.
But Rondo lost his composure and basically did not battle through it when he picked up a double technical foul for arguing the call and bumping referee Marc Davis with 41 seconds remaining, drawing an ejection and likely suspension heading into Game 2.
Two things were apparent.
1. Rondo was correct about the initial call. Bass and Josh Smith had equal right to the basketball, and a jump ball appeared to be the right call. Also, Rondo was already fired up over Davis missing a call at the other end, when Smith pretty clearly knocked the ball out of bounds before possession was awarded to Atlanta.
2. Rondo must be mindful of the situation and not make such an error in judgment.
The story on Rondo in the second half of the season has been of a player who finally, to some extent, gets it. He will never been the ideal emotional leader or interview subject, but since his ball-tossing episode in Detroit drew him a two-game suspension in February, Rondo had spoken several times about wanting to be a good teammate and becoming, at age 26, not just the guy who brought the ball up and made some fancy passes but also the one who led by example. Such a player has to understand that there is a point in a game and in a series when he cannot afford to be ejected and potentially suspended.
Momentum took a 180 after Rondo's outburst. The Celtics had cut the deficit to four points from as many as 19 and were holding for a defensive stop. The ball was deflected, and Kevin Garnett went to the floor after it. Smith and Bass hit the hardwood next, toppling over each other as they wrestled for the ball.
Even with the whistle and the shooting foul that followed, the Celtics would have been in no worse than a two-possession game, with the ball and timeouts. The odds of winning would have been low, but the Celtics have made some crazy comebacks this season. Plus, there was always the next game.
With one bump, which Rondo said was unintentional, he changed the complexion of the game and potentially the series.
"I was upset about the call, and I said some words to Marc after the first tech," Rondo told reporters. "As I was walking, I thought he stopped, and my momentum carried me into him. I even think I tripped on his foot. I didn't intentionally chest-bump him, but that's what it appears to be."
Rondo's bump may not have been intentional — even if, as he admitted, it appeared to be — but Pierce's words rang doubly true after the incident. Matters that, once upon a time, may have been a minor inconvenience for the fifth fiddle on the Celtics' roster are more serious now that Rondo is arguably Boston's most important player.
Rondo is, in Garnett's words, "the black lion" in the Celtics' Voltron. The Galaxy Alliance depends on the head of Voltron staying level-headed, whenever he is allowed to return to the court.