BOSTON -- With about six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Celtics' 102-97 loss to the Pacers, a few screws came loose on Rajon Rondo's knee brace forcing the Celtics to burn a timeout while he fiddled with it.
That he emerged from the Celtics bench with no brace moments later was fitting. Though the Celtics lost, they played the best team in the Eastern Conference competitively thanks in large part to the fact that Rondo put together another performance in which he looked like his old self.
Boston's point guard put together his third consecutive double-double -- 12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds -- and admitted afterward that he felt as though he was improving.
"Felt pretty good," Rondo said. "I'm getting a little bit of a rhythm. Didn't get to the line like I wanted to tonight, but each night it varies."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens kept Rondo on the floor for a season-high 38 minutes in the loss. After the game, Stevens highlighted Rondo's effort as one of the positive takeaways after his team's meeting with Indiana.
"He didn't want to come out ever," Stevens said. "So that was a good sign. And I thought he was good. I think he's played pretty well . . . I thought he was good again tonight. [He] got into the teeth of the defense. The 11 assists could've been 13 or 14."
On multiple occasions, Rondo created his own shot as well. He was 3-for-6 from behind the three-point arc and had a fourth taken away with about two minutes remaining in the game when it was deemed after review that he did not beat the shot clock.
Rondo credited Celtics assistant Ron Adams for working with him on his jump shot while he rehabbed from ACL surgery before his return in mid-January.
He's been with me since day one. We've been working. We've been working day in and day out. As much as possible. In the beginning I could only move so much but I just been continue to try to work and shoot the ball with confidence.
"We started along a couple months back, really working on fundamentals, starting really close to the rim," Rondo said. "[There's] so much stuff that he's continued to critique me and stay on me with my shot. You gotta ask him. I think he's helped improve Avery Bradley. [Bradley]'s shooting the ball extremely well. I told Ron when I come back I want to shoot like Avery."
Rondo also featured his vintage chippiness at different points against the Pacers. After he was called for an offensive foul on Indy guard CJ Watson, the two went toe-to-toe for a moment. At other points, he prevented Pacers players from helping his teammates off the ground. In the second quarter he and Pacers center Roy Hibbert were called for matching technical fouls.
"That's just how I play," Rondo said after the game tersely.
It was a snappy response to a question he had little time for, dripping with the disappointment of yet another loss. It was yet another sign that the old Rondo is back, or at least on his way.