HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Heat didn’t dance around the floor after finally beating back their tormentors from Boston Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps they’d seen enough of the Celtics since the trade deadline to know that a win over these Celtics isn’t worth celebrating, even if it does give you the inside track for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, not to mention the confidence of knowing you can whip ’em if need be.
The one thing that was put to rest on the last Sunday of the regular season was the Heat’s fear factor where the Celtics are concerned. After being bullied in three previous meetings this season by the defending Eastern Conference champs, the Heat bowed up and showed that they, like most everyone else since Kendrick Perkins departed, are not intimidated by the Celtics’ mystique of the past three seasons.
Jermaine O’Neal did his best to fill in as the Celtics’ enforcer, delivering a shoulder shiver to LeBron James that wound up sending O’Neal flying in the opposite direction. James chucked the ball at O’Neal’s back and flagrant and technical fouls followed, for James and O’Neal as well as others. There would be no more bullying, not with the Celtics in their current state and not with the Heat energized by the challenge.
The Celtics tried to make their usual statement,essentially, “We will snatch your heart if you don’t stop us.” And this time the Heat stopped them.
“We’re not backing down from nobody,” James told reporters after the game, a verbal statement to go along with the physical one the Heat gave during their rout.
The fallout flows both ways. The confidence booster that this game was for the Heat has a flip side. This loss was the latest dose of reality for the new-look Celtics, who have scored just five wins (in 11 tries) over playoff teams since the trade deadline.
“At one point, I was watching from the bench at the way they were passing the ball and thought, ‘That’s the way we usually play,'” Paul Pierce said told the Miami Herald. “It is very disturbing when I look up and we are down 15 rebounds to a team that is not known for their rebounding.”
The Celtics are shining a light on themselves, talking about all of the things that they didn’t do. And there is some validity in that approach. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has acknowledged repeatedly that his team is not the same team we all saw before the trade, and as he explained to the Boston Globe, there is obviously work to be done before they entertain thoughts of another long playoff run:
“The frustration is high on our team right now,” Rivers said. “Honestly, we’ve just got to keep working on [coming back]. It’s my job to figure it out. I gotta figure it out and then I gotta get them to stay with it. We played for seven minutes to start the game and turned around and said, ‘Oh, this is the Celtics,’ and it was gone. To me it was gone because a couple of things didn’t happen our way. I know what we have to do. We know what we have to do.”
So do the Heat.
They finally stood up to the bully, and in the process they helped expose the Celtics for the flawed bunch that they are right now.
Whether or not it means anything the next time these two teams see each other remains to be seen. But the fear factor is gone!