The Celtics have been through a weeklong Rhode Island training camp, eight preseason games against Atlantic Division foes, and 10 additional practices over the past month. By now, they're starting to get antsy.
If they're not yet ready for Tuesday night's regular-season opener against the Miami Heat, then they probably never will be.
"I'm very happy with where we are," Paul Pierce said Monday at the conclusion of the team's final practice. "I think we're ready. Game one is here, and I think we're ready for game one. We've still got a lot of stuff to go over, we've still got a lot of offense to put in, but at this point, going into game one, I feel very confident about everything. We're ready."
The Celtics will be the first team to get a crack at the newly remodeled Heat. They'll be the first to get a full, 48-minute taste of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all on the same team. The Heat have been anointed by many as the next champions of the Eastern Conference, and the Celtics will be out to remind the world that they still own that title.
The TD Garden will be electric from the opening tip.
"You've definitely got to expect a playoff atmosphere," Pierce said. "I mean, there's a lot of buzz around this game and how these teams have been put together. You've got two of the projected top teams in the East. You've got to expect a playoff atmosphere, and we're approaching it like that."
For the Celtics, it's been hard to prepare for Tuesday night's opener. The Heat have been without their captain for most of this month — Wade strained his right hamstring in the first quarter of Miami's preseason opener against Detroit on Oct. 5. The C's would love to be able to study the new-look Heat and learn their tendencies inside and out, but it becomes difficult with Wade having missed the entire exhibition slate. For C's coach Doc Rivers, normally a slave to videotape, there's no material to delve into.
Then again, Rivers says the revamped Heat will be more or less self-explanatory.
"They're great players," the coach said of Wade and his superstar teammates. "Great players tend to figure it out. So they'll be great. We understand that. You know, after the summer that they've had, with all the talk and the anticipation, we're going to get great players that are really fired up to play. So you'll see those three guys at full speed, at full blast. The key for them will be to stay together and do it in rhythm."
LeBron, Wade and Bosh have spent their entire careers as the first option on their respective teams. The Celtics had a game plan against the Cavaliers, Heat and Raptors of the past — clamp down on the leading scorer, deny him easy baskets, refuse to let him take over the game.
With all three guys on the court together, it won't be so easy. But the goal is still the same: With a team-oriented defensive effort, shut down the stars.
"We're a help-defense team," Pierce said. "Regardless of who's out there on the court, we have rules and we have principles that we play by, and we stick to them. We're not going to change for anybody, even though they do have a special talent out there on the court. We're going to give plenty of help. You have to — there's not going to be one guy defending LeBron, there's not going to be one guy defending Wade, there's not going to be one guy defending Bosh. Every time they touch the ball, we want them all to see a crowd."
Beating this Heat team will be a struggle for anyone on any night. But for the Celtics, with throngs of fans and media members alike keying on this season opener, it's imperative.
Tuesday night will be a taste of what the Celtics can look forward to all season — lofty expectations. With this collection of talent and this much emotional investment in the season ahead, the Celtics won't be settling for anything.
"The other teams that I've been on, you go into the season and you think, 'Can we make the playoffs?'" Ray Allen said. "But here, we're shooting a lot higher than just making the playoffs. For the four years that I've been here, we've gone into every preseason and every regular season thinking we wanted to do something special with our season. This year's definitely no different."
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