BOSTON -- The shot should have fallen, because that's just how these things are supposed to work. We've seen it happen a number of times in sports: The injured player guts his way through the must-win game, defying all logic by simply being on the floor, then improbably delivers the winning shot.
Rondo, who suffered a dislocated left elbow during Boston's Game 3 win on Saturday, was playing with an immobilizing brace that essentially rendered his left arm useless in Monday's Game 4. But largely because of his defensive efforts -- Rondo was, after all, named to the NBA All-Defensive first team earlier in the day -- Boston's All-Star guard found himself on the court during fourth-quarter crunch time and nearly delivered the Hollywood ending.
Taking a handoff from Kevin Garnett near the left side of the free-throw line in a tied game with little more than a minute to play, Rondo swooped hard to the basket with Mario Chalmers chasing. He attempted a right-handed layup (not that unusual for Rondo despite the angle of approach) and it kissed a touch too hard off the glass, keeping the score knotted and helping force overtime, in which the Heat emerged with a 98-90 triumph.
Miami leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, with a chance to deliver a knockout blow Wednesday back in South Beach.
Rondo's missed layup served as a microcosm of missed opportunities for the Celtics on a night Boston failed to even this series and Rondo failed to add to his injury lore.
But the moment shouldn't take anything away from another gutsy effort by the 25-year-old guard. After gutting through the final quarter Saturday thanks in large part to adrenaline, Rondo found himself fighting through a lot of pain Monday and could be seen popping aspirin on the bench and conferencing with the medical staff throughout the evening.
In typical Rondo fashion, he dismissed the injury chatter after the game, noting simply that he felt "fine," and wasn't hindered at all. Anyone who watched the game knows otherwise.
Rondo finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with five assists, two rebounds and three turnovers in 38 minutes. He did a nice job defensively, limiting Miami's point guard combo of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers to seven points on 3-of-8 shooting.
"I thought [Rondo] was great for the minutes that he gave us," said captain Paul Pierce. "You really don't know what to expect when a guy has an injury of Rondo's caliber. I don't even know how he's still playing."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers made the bold decision to lift Rondo from the game in overtime. After two quick buckets by Miami, Rivers inserted Jeff Green seeking a burst of offense, but the Celtics ultimately went the first three minutes of the extra frame without scoring.
"Listen, I don't know what the right call was," Rivers admitted about taking Rondo out in the extra session. "They clearly were trapping off of him and trapping him. He struggled getting the ball to guys in their right spot. I loved his defense, for the most part."
Rondo said he understood the decision: "Of course I wanted to be out there, but coach made the decision."
Rivers noted that the reason he subbed was to get spacing on the floor and work the ball through Kevin Garnett in the post. It worked, but Garnett missed his shots (in fact, he missed nine of 10 overall).
But every player had opportunities to win this game for Boston and couldn't get the job done. Just as Rondo did on that layup late in regulation.
"I know that he's probably dealing with some type of pain, some type of infringement while he's running up and down the floor," Celtics guard Ray Allen said. "Any time you have an injury like that, you come out the next game, you're limited a little bit. But when he's out there, I've seen him take [that layup]. ... That was right in his wheelhouse. He was going too fast and it kind of rolled out of the basket."
There's not much time for Rondo to get that elbow right and he's likely to still be severely hindered with Boston fighting for its postseason life on Wednesday. But he was adamant after Monday's loss that he'd be right back on the court, trying to will his team to victory, even with just one arm.
Said Pierce: "I expect him to grind it out. It's all on the line, next game." And Rondo soon confirmed that sentiment: "I'll be fine. I'm playing."
The storybook ending would be playing and helping his team find a way to win this series against improbable odds. But we should remember that Rondo's already penned a pretty amazing tale just by being on the floor.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.