WALTHAM — Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo was not born when regular-season games like the one he will play in tonight were commonplace.
You remember games like tonight's against the Pistons, the ones that because of the buildup felt like playoff tilts in May and early June.
Those six Celtics games against the Philadelphia 76ers, five more against the upstart Detroit Pistons and those pesky veterans from Milwaukee, and, of course, those glorious two games against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Almost all were on Sundays at noon on CBS with Dick Stockton and some ex-Celtic, usually Tommy Heinsohn, adding color commentary.
You would lick your chops two days in advance, maybe longer, praying for noon Sunday to come.
The 2007-08 Boston Celtics remind us a lot of the 1986 Celtics in terms of dominance, unselfishness and star power. But the one thing we haven't had in this watered-down NBA is a big — I mean really big — regular-season game.
The standings aside, the Pistons arrived here early this morning — they beat visiting Seattle 100-97 last night — ready to stake their claim as the beasts of the East.
Mind you, this isn't Larry vs. Isiah yet. But remember, even that series took a few years to heat up. And after what we've gone through the last decade and half, we aren't complaining.
"The Garden will probably be rocking. You can already feel the buildup, at least on this end because we haven't played since Sunday and the Pistons (played last night)," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I like that. It's good when people are excited."
OK, I know, it's only one game. But the players, even the Celtics who tried to down play the "playoff feel" of it, know better.
After the last two games these teams played (Detroit won 87-85 in Boston on Dec. 19, and the Celts won 92-85 in Detroit on Jan. 5) the loser claimed that the other celebrated a little too much.
"I laugh at that," said Rivers. "I think that tells you what the players think."
The Pistons are the vets here. The core of this team has been together going on six seasons, winning a championship in 2004, losing in the finals the year after and making it to conference championship the other two years.
The 2007-08 Celtics have won 46 games and, well, that's about it.
"It will be fun and there is a little buildup," said Celts guard Ray Allen. "But this is not judgment day. That comes in the playoffs."
We will give Allen a mulligan. He spent too many seasons in Milwaukee and Seattle, two mid-major cities of the NBA.
Baby boomers who follow the Celtics remember 10 or more of these games every regular season, games which have a little more at stake than bragging rights.
Home-court advantage, which is probably more important to the Celtics, is at stake. Protecting the home floor is a given.
In fact, Rivers says the game against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Dec. 30, which the Celts won 110-91, felt like the good old days.
"That one felt special," said Rivers. "Before the game they played highlights (on the Jumbotron). It was fabulous. They showed everything from the rivalry, even the Celtics victories. It was first class all the way. That game felt like something special."
The fact that the Celtics added two-time NBA champion Sam Cassell, who won't play today, was certainly no coincidence.
Acquisitions made at this time of year aren't made to simply improve the squad but are often chess moves to compete against your closest competition in the postseason.
Cassell can score. He's a decent defender. But most of all, he's been there before, during crunch time in May, like most of the Pistons have.
"We didn't get Sam (to match up) with the Pistons," said Rivers. "The tough matchup for us against the Pistons is Chauncey Billups and getting Sam doesn't change that. Chauncy has always given me headaches. He's tough, mentally and physically. We got Sam to help us on the bench."
Whatever. The fact is that a Celtics game in March 2008 feels like a Celtics game in March 1986. You have to win these late regular-season battles before you win them in May and June.
"Playing in the regular season is very different from the playoffs," Rivers said. "The Pistons are coming here after playing the night before. We've had a few days to be focused only on them. In the playoffs, it is you and them all the time."
Hopefully, for the Celtics' sake, players like Rondo, only 22, are ready for the new experience.
I have to admit, it feels like noon on Sunday again. And that feels good.
E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit vs. Boston
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
Where: TD Banknorth Garden
TV: Comcast Sports Net
Records: Boston 46-12 (best in the NBA), Detroit 44-16 (second best in NBA)
Previous matchups: Detroit won 87-85 in Boston on Dec. 19 on Chauncey Billups' two free throws with a tenth of a second left; the Celts won 92-85 in Detroit on Jan. 5 as Glenn Davis scored 20 points in 23 minutes.