BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett's backside had barely hit the floor when Rajon Rondo's hands emphatically plunged into the chest of Brooklyn's Kris Humphries.
Rondo didn't stop shoving until Humphries tumbled to the floor about 25 feet beyond the spot of their initial contact -- like a wiry lineman driving a blocking sled. By the time teammates had pulled the two apart, Rondo had lost his jersey, his 37-game assist streak, and maybe his ability to put that jersey back on for the Celtics for the next few games.
But none of that likely mattered to Rondo in the moment. All he saw was his friend -- his best friend -- hit the floor and he snapped. Deserved or not, Rondo believes that no one should put Garnett on the ground like that.
As Celtics coach Doc Rivers later admitted, "[Garnett] took a bad fall and so Rondo saw that and probably reacted -- and overreacted, obviously."
Yes, the crime wasn't worth the punishment that awaits. Rondo will almost certainly be suspended by the league, if for no other reason than his previous run-ins, including a one-game suspension for bumping a game official during last year's playoffs and a two-game ban for throwing a ball at a game official during the regular season before that.
Trying to bring a bit of levity to the situation, Rivers quipped, "Usually he goes after the refs; this time it was another guy, so that's better, I guess." Turning serious, he added, "Listen, I think Rondo is emotional ... it was a play that happened and he regrets it, I'm sure. But what can you do about it?"
For the Celtics, you can only rally about the sliver of good intentions involved with the fracas. Rondo was standing up for a teammate, a brother. That's exactly the sort of bond this team is going to need if it's going to accomplish its goals this season.
Those goals seem distant at the moment amid an 8-7 start and the likelihood the team's star player could miss some time moving forward.
But Rivers declared that the Celtics were soft against the Nets -- the worst four-letter word you can call a team. What's more, Rivers suggested the league knows his team is soft and said teams are content to push the Celtics around until Boston does something about it.
Rondo didn't deliver the sort of toughness that Rivers is looking for, but for a team that's been sleepwalking a bit, it might have been a much-needed jolt.
And even if it wasn't, Rondo wasn't going to let his friend get pushed around.
Just go back to Media Day back in September. Asked to explain his bond with Garnett, Rondo noted, "I would probably say Kevin is my closest friend on the team. Kevin always wants to see me do well. From day one, I think my second year, when he first came in, he told me he would be disappointed if I wasn't the MVP of the league one day, if I wasn't considered one of the best point guards one day, so he's always pushed me and expected more out of me than a lot of people did, and he's always showing me how to become a better person each day."
On Wednesday, Rondo did the pushing. His intent wasn't lost on Garnett.
"Well, we all back each other up here," said Garnett. He later added, "You have to protect each other, and we consider ourselves family around here, and that's just the way it is."
Garnett said he's putting this game in the memory bank. If the Celtics turn their fortunes around, this might just be remembered as a turning point.
Rondo gave himself up for the team. Now he needs his teammates to do the same.
"This is what it is, man," said Garnett. "This ain't the Boy Scouts, this ain't the Girl Scouts. It's the NBA. It's what it is. There's going to be a physical part of it, and everybody's going to have to adjust to it or you're not going to be able to be here. Period. Point blank."
Rivers said he's been struggling to get his guys to understand what it means to put on a Celtics jersey. He said it's clear that the remaining core of Garnett, Rondo and Pierce understands, but he needs the rest to buy in.
"Kevin, Paul and Rondo and a couple other guys -- it's almost like they understand the jersey they're wearing and the pride," said Rivers. "And everyone else -- and not everyone -- it's almost like they think because they put the jersey on that they are something. You've got to earn it here. And you've got to understand when we play, every team is attacking. It's a big game for them.
"What I saw tonight, honestly, was I thought Brooklyn looked at this game as a huge game. Huge game. They want to make the playoffs this year, they want to win the division. They've struggled with us for how many years? And we showed up to play basketball. That's what I saw."
Down 16 and staring at a second loss this month against the Nets, Rondo had seen about enough.
So, goodbye, assist streak (Rondo is stuck, at least for now, tied with John Stockton for the second-longest streak of games with at least 10 assists in league history at 37). Hello, possible suspension.
But maybe the Celtics learned a little something about their leaders Wednesday.
And go back to Media Day. Rondo hinted that Garnett has a way of helping him extract positives from negative situations.
"Whenever I mess up, Kevin's always the one that will tell me, 'You should do this, you should conduct yourself this way, or handle it that way,' so he's kind of like a big brother or mentor, and he's always wanted the best for me, so that's how we kind of gravitated toward each other," said Rondo. "Obviously, off the court we have a lot of things in common. We share the same interest in a lot of things and like I said, he's been kind of like a big brother to me."
Little brother stood up for big brother on Wednesday. While they've rarely shown it over the first 15 games of the 2012-13 season, maybe these Celtics do have a little fight in them.
They just have to start channeling it the right way. Crazy as it sounds, maybe Wednesday was a start.