The Boston Celtics dispatched the Miami Heat, and it was easier than expected. All it took was five games to take down Dwyane Wade and the underachieving and untalented crew he calls teammates.
But it was always known, by everyone outside of Florida, that Boston would outlast the Heat. While the series ended up being quicker than anticipated, the end result did nothing to alter the second-round collision course with Cleveland and its Kingdom.
If the Celtics are going to make noise in the 2010 playoffs — and don’t get it twisted, they’ve only made whispers so far — beating Lebron was always going to be a necessity. But can the Celtics take him down? Can they defeat the NBA’s best player and his improved supporting cast? Can the Celtics do what two weeks ago was thought impossible and now, on the heels of the impressive first-round dismantling of Miami, remains firmly in the realm of unlikely?
“I think we have enough to win it all,” Paul Pierce stated in defiance of common belief. But, with Lebron James on the other side — no matter what his damaged elbow is like — Pierce knows, “we have our work cut out for us.”
“We know this is going to be a tough series, a really, really tough series,” admitted Pierce. “You got LeBron James, the best player in the NBA right now. He is about to receive another MVP, a two-time MVP. It’s a huge mountain we going to have to climb, but I think this team is ready to face the test.”
But are they? Is beating the Heat — even in five games — really a sign that Boston is ready for the league’s top team? As well as the Celtics looked at times against Miami, troublesome signs remained. “We still make some of the same mistakes,” said Glen Davis even after yesterday’s win. Remember, the Celtics — down 14 in the second half — could easily have lost Game One, and Game Three was saved only by a late dose of Truth syrup. Give those two games away, and suddenly the Celts would have been down, not up, 3-1 going into Game Five. Then again, maybe winning games they might have lost is the best sign yet that the Celtics are ready.
“I would say from our vantage point,” noted Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, “at least when we played them, that’s probably the most mentally tough team that we’ve played this year.”
For much of the season, “mentally tough” wouldn’t have been a catch-phrase to throw out in regards to the Celtics. They lost the games they were supposed to. Early deficits were mostly insurmountable. Teams went on runs, and the Celtics were unable — unwilling? — to stop them.
But that changed against Miami as the regular season became the playoffs, and the newly-found resolve — non-existent in the months leading up to the postseason — is the biggest reason to put faith in the Celtics.
“We are playing as good basketball as we have been playing all season long, and we are ready,” Pierce said, reiterating his confidence.
Ready for a player as physically talented as any to ever grace an NBA court. Ready for that player’s retooled supporting cast, bolstered by the midseason addition of Antawn Jamison. Ready to make good on the promise that the playoffs would be different. Ready to dethrone the King, a king who has still never received the one crown he wants most.
But, as ready as they may be, can the Celtics win the series?
With the knowledge gained from experience and past conquers on their side, the Celtics can. Whether they will can only be decided on the court.
Celtics fans can only hope that court will be ruled not by a king, but by a cast of former champions turned underdogs.