Word came down about an hour before tip-off Friday night.
Point guard Rajon Rondo would be sidelined because of a bruised left shin.
The Celtics’ captain went through warm-ups to see how he felt before his team played the Charlotte Bobcats at TD Garden, and then decided he wasn’t good enough to go.
Upon hearing the news, coach Brad Stevens turned to undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey.
“You’re starting,” Stevens said.
Pressey was shocked.
“From then on, I just had to get my mind ready,” he said. “I’ve started before so it wasn’t that big of a deal, [but] it was just so soon, maybe like 40 minutes before game time.”
Yet Pressey was crucial — “player of the game,” said his backcourt mate Avery Bradley — in helping steer the Celtics to a 106-103 win that snapped their nine-game losing streak.
Pressey finished with 10 points, a career-high 13 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals in a career-high 39 minutes. It was also his second double-double in three games.
“Phil stepped up for Rondo,” said Bradley, who had a team-high 22 points. “It’s hard to fill those shoes, but I feel like Phil did a great job.”
The 5-foot-11-inch Pressey also tipped the ball out for a game-saving offensive rebound with five seconds left in the fourth quarter that sealed the Celtics’ win.
“That’s just one of the winning plays that Coach Stevens talks about,” Pressey said. “Diving for a loose ball, boxing out, taking the charge, getting an offensive rebound — those are the winning plays that he talks about, day in and day out. I had a good look at it, tipped it out.”
His tip-out came following a missed 3-pointer by Jared Sullinger and the Celtics clinging to a 104-103 lead. The crowd erupted when Brandon Bass corralled the rebound, leading to a pair of Sullinger free throws.
“This is what gets me so excited about coaching here, is everybody gets that — this place erupted at that moment, and they understand it,” Stevens said.
“And I talked about how great the fans have been to us all year in a tough year, and that was really a neat moment. I wish we could’ve stopped and cheered but we had a game to play and we almost gave our lead back.”
Jannero Pargo missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer as time ran out for the Bobcats (40-39). Former Celtics center Al Jefferson led Charlotte with a game-high 32 points and 10 rebounds.
Sullinger had 20 and seven rebounds. Brandon Bass and Jeff Green each netted 18 points.
The Celtics led, 90-77, early in the fourth quarter, but the Bobcats responded with a 15-2 run to tie the score at 92 with 5:13 left.
Again, it was coming down to the wire, a theme for the Celtics this season, who played their 48th game in which they were within 5 points of their opponent (either leading or trailing) entering the contest’s final five minutes.
Only Toronto has played more games of that nature — 51 entering the night.
“I said this earlier this year, and I didn’t know it was going to be like this every day, but every game really is an adventure,” Stevens said. “No lead is ever safe.”
The Celtics trailed by 1 with less than four minutes left, but they used an 8-0 run to take a 104-97 lead.
Such a late burst wasn’t typical for the Celtics — nor was the fact that they were able to hold the lead, but they did, unlike Wednesday in Atlanta.
The difference between the two games?
“We stayed poised [Friday],” Sullinger said. “That was the biggest thing. We didn’t overreact. We didn’t get worried about a lot of things. We just kept playing.”
The win was impressive not only because Rondo was out, but also because Sullinger played through an ankle sprain he suffered in the third quarter.
The Bobcats were also missing their starting point guard, Kemba Walker, who sat with a groin injury.
Both teams shot well — 52 percent for Boston, 51 for Charlotte — but the Celtics made 11 3-pointers, including four by Bradley, which helped them overcome a 50-36 deficit in points in the paint.
With the win and a loss by Orlando, the Celtics (24-55) ended the night tied with Utah for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
Fans are no doubt cheering for the Celtics to lose so the team has a better chance at potentially landing the top draft pick — and the team hears such chatter.
“All of us are disappointed in our overall record, and all of us are certainly aware of talk, but that’s not our task,” Stevens said. “Our task is to play as hard, coach as hard, and do right by the game.”
At the same time, Sullinger wanted to thank those same fans who cheered during the announced sellout crowd of 18,624.
“They’re used to seeing playoffs, they’re used to seeing a title-contending team, and this year, we’re not in the playoffs, and they still come out, and they still support us,” Sullinger said.
“And I know they’re not used to it, but their sportsmanship, their passion for the Celtics, it doesn’t go unnoticed with us and we appreciate them.”
The Celtics will play in front of their fans once more this season — the regular-season finale on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.