It was two veteran leaders, and former teammates from a championship era, sharing a brief moment after an entertaining tilt between their young teams. Pierce laughed when asked before the game if, in the aftermath of Rondo and Kobe Bryant getting pancakes, whether he and Rondo had considered breakfast together. But maybe with both teams headed to the nation's capital for the back end of a home-and-home, they were making plans for dinner.
There's a bond that remains for members of Boston's 2008 title team. Pierce noted how he, Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis all have a group message set up and text regularly. (Somewhere Ray Allen, and the phone number that he may or may not have changed, weeps.)
"It’s just a mutual respect," Pierce said of his embrace with Rondo. Pierce also shared a moment with former teammate Avery Bradley and second-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who arrived after Pierce's departure. "They understand just being with this franchise a long time the things that I’ve been able to accomplish, not only on the court, but off the court, and I think the fans here really value that too. I was saying hi to some of the longtime season-ticket holders and Brad was right there to say hi to him. And Rondo, we talk, we text all the time."
Pierce watched Rondo post his 31st career triple-double after registering 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists over 34 minutes. Rondo is trying to fight his way through a bit of an individual scoring funk, but has spearheaded a Boston offense that has routinely put triple digits on the scoreboard despite their persistent fourth-quarter struggles.
Eight years ago, back when Rondo was just a rookie deep on Boston's point-guard depth chart, Pierce was in similar shoes as Rondo is now as the veteran leader of a team enduring the pains of the rebuilding process, which that season included a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak.
Now, even from afar, Pierce offers advice to Rondo on how to be patient as the Celtics attempt to get back to contender status.
"He has a chance to show these guys what it takes to win, the habits you have to have," Pierce said. "He’s grown up before our eyes when I was here. Now he’s become the leader here. It’s good for him to experience it on his own, the one true All-Star, the veteran that the younger guys look up to for guidance.
"He’s accepted that role and it’s tough. It’s a demanding role, especially in this situation where you’re losing, but he’s up for the task. It’s frustrating, definitely. He definitely gets frustrated. Losing is not easy. Rondo’s been a part of a lot of winning teams, but he’s headstrong. He’ll fight through it."
The Celtics routinely have kicked away fourth-quarter leads this season and nearly did it again as the Wizards rallied from 18 down to claw within a point twice late in Sunday's game. In fact, Pierce had a quality look at a 3-pointer with 45 seconds to go, but missed the shot.
A couple of possessions earlier, Pierce had a chance to tie the game, but it was Rondo who rushed out from Boston's zone defense to contest. He didn't bite on a series of upfakes and, aware of the late-clock situation, managed to strip Pierce as he started up for a 3-point attempt.
With Sunday's victory, the Celtics have won a season-high three straight games. The triumph over the Wizards is the most satisfying of the bunch (yes, even more so than stomping the rival Lakers) because it came against a team with an honest to goodness chance of being a contender in the Eastern Conference.
That's why Pierce is in Washington, after all. After 15 seasons in Boston, he has accepted the role of veteran vagabond, now playing on his third team in three seasons while trying to give the Wizards the lift they need to take their next step.
But his legacy lives on in Boston, particularly through Rondo.
"One of my favorite guys, he’s one of my favorite leaders I’ve ever played with," Rondo said of Pierce. "He’s a great role model and I’m sure the older he gets, the more knowledge he has for a young guy like John Wall and Bradley Beal.
"He’s just a great talker. When he does it, he’s very positive on the court. He’s demanding. He’s going to yell at you and get on you, but it’s all for the betterment of yourself and the team."
Pierce admitted he was less emotional this visit. He said it'll always be strange walking into the Garden and making the left-hand turn into the visitor's locker room instead of Boston's spot on the right. Fans showered him with an ovation when he was introduced before Sunday's game.
"I tried to focus a lot," Pierce said. "Last year was really tough for me to lock in on what I needed to do. This year, I just wanted to come in, lock in at the job at hand and focus as much as possible. It’s hard at times. I hear the chants and I hear the people yelling, but when I come into the Garden now, it’s to try to get a win against the Boston Celtics.
"This place will always have a place in my heart. Always. Everybody understands when you play for a Boston team [and win a] championship, no one in this town ever forgets that. Just like we still celebrate Larry [Bird], Kevin [McHale], you know, those guys when they come around here. These are our true fans."
Pierce was asked again if he might entertain the idea of returning to Boston, whether to close out his playing career or after he hangs up his headband.
"Well, we’ll see if the opportunity presents itself," Pierce said. "Maybe if there’s an opportunity, I would love to."
The other question is whether Rondo will still be here if that were to happen. He's an unrestricted free agent this summer and must decide whether he wants to stick out Boston's rebuilding process and potentially develop a Pierce-like legacy with the only team he's ever played for.
Stevens noted after Saturday's practice how he likes that the fans respond to Pierce, cheering him even despite his visitor status. Stevens said, "I think it tells you about the legacy that he left here. Hopefully that’s a good thing for others to follow."
Maybe Rondo will stay on the same path. If nothing else, he's doing what Pierce did back in those lean years in trying to help steer a young team back to contender status.