BOSTON As Brandon Bass lay on the sideline near the Boston Celtics bench, clutching his left knee, clearly in pain, Celtics Nation feared the worst.
The way this season has gone, with one fluke injury after another, it seemed a given that Bass would be just another one to add to the list.
"I felt like a little kid," Bass said. "I was scared. I didn't know what had happened. It hurt so bad."
A few minutes later, Bass was back on his feet and able to finish out the game as the Celtics squeaked out an 88-86 overtime win against the Hawks.
Bass' injury (he said he hyperextended the knee), and his ability to bounce back up and keep playing, was symbolic of the kind of season this has been for the Boston Celtics.
Just when you're ready to write them off because of a seemingly cataclysmic setback, they shock you with their resiliency.
Boston (34-24) is 10 games over .500 for the first time this season, and are riding a four-game winning streak which includes all four wins over playoff-caliber opponents.
"We have great character," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Tough-minded group. They really are. You could see they wanted to win that game so bad, and you could see the way we played."
And no player better symbolized that fight than Bass, who had his seventh double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
When he went down in overtime, C's coach Doc Rivers feared Bass had suffered some type of injury to the ligaments in his left knee.
"I've had that injury -- we know the one I'm talking about?" said Rivers, who suffered a torn ACL injury to his left knee during the 1993-1994 season when he played with the New York Knicks. "I don't even like saying the word. And where he was grabbing. I didn't think it was going to be a good thing."
But it turned out better -- much better -- than Rivers expected, which in many ways, is shaping up to be the theme of the Celtics' season.
Prior to the All-Star break, Boston seemed to be caught somewhere between bound for the NBA lottery, or a playoff team headed for an early exit.
But since the All-Star break, the C's have not only distanced themselves from the mediocre, but they are trending towards becoming one of the NBA's elite teams. This current run of success will only strengthen the case that the Celtics are a legit playoff contender that teams need to be concerned about when the playoffs begin in a couple weeks.
Some would attribute the turn-around to Rivers, while others will credit the players.
Truth be told, it's a combination of the two.
"They're playing at a very, very high level," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said after the Celtics defeated the Pacers on Saturday. "They have a championship coach and a championship core."