He still occasionally gambles on defense. The jumper can still get called into a Law and Order lineup. And he's still just a second year player.

But Friday night, with little on the line concerning the playoffs and Celtics Coach Doc Rivers concerned with his starters' minutes, point guard Rajon Rondo played and controlled the tempo like a veteran. So did the vet behind him.

Two days after coming down with flu-like symptoms, Rondo played the hunter against the Milwaukee Bucks, posting a cool 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in less than 23 minutes. He ducked out of the locker room early to catch the team flight to Atlanta, but left his teammates impressed with his comeback performance.

"He's being Superman," Kevin Garnett said. "If you saw him two days ago, you would never think we would have played tonight."

With a lottery-bound Bucks squad showing the creases in its defense early, Rondo exploited them to their fullest, dishing to Paul Pierce on the wing, scooping to Kendrick Perkins in the paint, bouncing a no-looker to Garnett for the and-one layup and finding Ray Allen in the left corner for a pair of threes. By the time the first buzzer sounded, Rondo's line read 12 points, six assists, and three boards.

And, most importantly to the Celtics' playoff hopes, his jumper was falling.

"They're gonna give Rajon open shots, they're gonna make Rajon a lot of money...a lot of money," said backup point Sam Cassell. "Because he's going to knock 'em down."

Cassell, playing for the first time since hurting his back against Charlotte, put on full display the veteran presence he was signed for March 4. With Boston's major guns on the bench, Cassell brought poise, and that patented jumper, to the second unit, showing with his on-court coaching and calm with the rock that the once-questionable point guard position now has two perfect compliments.

"Both were very good. Efficient," Rivers said. "Obviously, Rondo came out, was attacking early, [made] just overall great basketball decisions, which is what we want him to do every night. And I though Sam kept the second unit together. So, great efforts from both."

Together, Rondo and Cassell may not put up the gaudy assist numbers of Toronto's T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon, but while the numbers told Rondo's story tonight, come playoff time plenty will be left between the lines.

Except for that jumper. If the defense is going to rotate off the big three, and Rondo is going to be hitting nylon, for the Celtics that may very well mean...well, let the backup "understudy" tell it.

"Oh, Championship," Cassell said.