All right, this is it. No more half-hearted performances, no more excuses. No more "saving it for the playoffs." These are the playoffs, and this is the Celtics' chance to redeem themselves after an inconsistent, shaky season.
The C's enter the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, and they're not on anyone's radar as a serious threat to return to the NBA Finals. Will they thrive in their role as a sleeper? It's possible, but they've got to take it one step at a time. Step one is a playoff opener Saturday night against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
The Celtics should consider themselves lucky — there are only three teams in the Eastern Conference that they swept this season, and Miami's one of them. (The other two are Charlotte and Toronto.)
But all three Boston wins this season were close — the C's won 92-85 in November, 112-106 in overtime in January and 107-102 in February. The Heat have kept it close every time, and Wade has gone off for 27, 44 and 30 in the three games. If the C's let Wade go crazy again, and just one other guy slips through the cracks for a big game, you never know what could happen.
Rajon Rondo vs. Dwyane Wade
This isn't necessarily the one-on-one matchup you'll see all night — Rajon Rondo is a pure point guard, and Wade has the ability to play off the ball when Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers runs the offense for Miami. But with Wade's boundless athleticism and scoring ability, Rondo's got to be the guy that steps up defensively and slows down Miami's former Finals MVP. Rondo's battled the flu this week and there's no guarantee he'll be 100 percent. But it doesn't matter, this is the playoffs. He's got to leave it all on the floor for the Celtics to win this series.
Point guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting guard: Ray Allen
Small forward: Paul Pierce
Power forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Kendrick Perkins
Point guard: Carlos Arroyo
Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade
Small forward: Quentin Richardson
Power forward: Michael Beasley
Center: Jermaine O'Neal
The flu bug has struck the Celtics this week, hitting Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rondo. The Celtics are confident that all will be ready to go in Game 1.
O'Neal sat out Miami's last two games with a sprained left ankle. He is probable for Saturday.
The Celtics have had countless problems late this year with superstar scorers. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose — you name the guy, he goes off for 40 when he comes to Boston. If the C's don't take a stand in this series, you can add Dwyane Wade's name to that list. They've got a decision to make — do they focus on Wade and let his supporting cast do their worst, or do they shut down everyone else and let Wade get his? This aging lineup might not have the energy to do both. The road ahead is long, and the Celtics had better pace themselves.