The Miami Heat walked away from Massachusetts with a sour taste in their mouths. Nothing was much different than it had been in Cleveland for LeBron James because it appeared as if South Beach did not have enough power, just as the Cavaliers never did, to propel themselves past the Boston Celtics.
They were outplayed, out-hustled, mismatched and slow against one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break. The Celtics have been reemerging as one of the Eastern Conference’s top candidates and leading that charge is a furrow-browed Rajon Rondo just itching to prove to Beantown fans that he’s everything that Boston needs in what possibly may be the Boston Big Three’s last run under Doc Rivers.
Danny Ainge could only conjure up in his deepest, darkest corners of his mind that the same man he has been reportedly hustling to get rid of is making a case that he is Boston’s future, short and long term.
Rondo has accrued five triple-doubles (MIA, NY, MIL, CHI, WSH) and 12 double-doubles to add to the melting pot of the Celtics’ success and rising seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
However, one can’t really believe that Miami is just going to roll over and play the lesser of two evils. The Heat have pride and Dwyane Wade risking his ever-so-precious resting time before the playoffs to battle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference only proves that the Heat understand how important home-court advantage and beating their greatest foe is.
This is a demon that James has only exorcised last postseason and the nightmare that was April Fools' Day forced him and the rest of Miami to revisit why they are not at the finish line yet. It was a wake-up call that none of those men seem ready or willing to endure again.
"We'll be better prepared," said James, who picked up the East's Player of the Week honors for the fifth time this season and 36th of his career on Monday. "They beat us. They dominated us in that game. But we'll be better prepared."
So will Boston.
Which team has more at stake?
One would assume that Miami has much more to prove, but that is without evaluating the true reason why Miami fell into the slump they did when they were punked by both Boston and a Derrick Rose-less Chicago team. The Heat suffered because they were looking too far ahead in their future.
Toss out the general knowledge that they have the capability of being sketchy at times when it comes to consistency. After so many tightly scheduled games, the Heat are just ready to hit the playoffs. As James has already said, “We already know how to win postseason games…”
The worry is not about winning in the playoffs, nor has it been getting through the regular season with an accolade for how many games they have won going into April 28. They’ve already secured a berth into the playoffs and are coveted as the first or second choice to win the NBA championship, as the tallies jerk back and forth between Miami and Oklahoma City.
Miami’s true successes and failures are going to be measured by what they can do as the first or second seed in the 2012 NBA playoffs. Their regular season accomplishments mean zilch.
Boston, on the other hand, whereas contention was theirs to lose last season, have realized that it is theirs to win over. It’s not like the Celtics are not proven in their own element, but the game has changed and so have the players.
The Celtics are not that powerhouse they once were and they have had to work from the bottom up to realize playoff contention this season. If Boston is able to one-up Miami in the regular season series, they will have accomplished a sort of respect they did not have walking into 2011.
It is not about how you start, but always about how you finish and the Celtics are becoming the biggest story finishers around the league right now. How long that will travel into the playoffs is a wider question, yet the confidence builder that beating Miami at the AmericanAirlines Arena after they embarrassed the Heat in Boston would undoubtedly leak into the first round.
The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics have one of the most enticingly numb rivalries in the league, but there are moments when the matchup is spot on. As the regular season winds down, things will only get more intense and if these two meet again after Tuesday’s matchup, it won’t be pretty, which isn’t surprising.
It never is.