Celtics Remain in Shadow of Miami Heat, Using Disrespect as Motivation for Early-Season Success

Celtics Remain in Shadow of Miami Heat, Using Disrespect as Motivation for Early-Season Success The Boston Celtics have been an afterthought since July 9.

That's when the Miami Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh, bringing them to South Beach to join forces with Dwyane Wade, and leaving a host of over-reactionary NBA analysts and fans slobbering over the "new Big Three."

Before Miami had even played a preseason game, ESPN's Marc Stein placed them at No. 2 in his widely cited power rankings.

John Hollinger, geekier than the "Dungeons and Dragons" re-enactors who dress up like knights and "shoot lightning bolts" at one another, one-upped Stein in his suspect computer-based system and anointed the Heat as the best team in the NBA.

Then the Celtics went ahead and ruined the party by beating Miami convincingly in the NBA season-opener. They out-rebounded them, out-assisted them, out-shot them, exposed Miami's lack of size and depth and forced a very Cleveland Cavaliers-esque, 21-shot performance from LeBron.

But that win, understandably, was chalked up to Wade's ailing hamstring, and what James called a "feeling-out process" in regards to a lack of playing time together for the star-studded Heat. It was a fair assessment. I said the same thing myself after the game: That wasn't the Miami that the league will see in April and May.

But then, two weeks later, the Celtics upended the Heat again, this time in Miami. And it was an even more convincing "W," minus another lazy second-half performance by Boston, which seemed to know it had the game in the bag halfway through the second quarter.

And still, there seemed to be a general lack of regard for what Boston had done — or rather, what Miami hadn't.

Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who's Zen-like genius apparently has helped him with arithmetic, predicted 70 regular-season wins for Miami. He made the statement Thursday, when Miami was 5-4; a 70-win season would require a 65-8 finish.

Even Heat forward Udonis Haslem entered the fray, saying after Miami's second loss to Boston, "Man, ain't nobody paying them dudes no attention, man." 

The Celtics, for their part, will tell you they don't mind the disrespect.

"It was hard in '08 when everyone gave us the trophy every corner that we turned" said Ray Allen, claiming he's glad to have the bull's-eye on someone else's back.

Head coach Doc Rivers has said much the same throughout the season. "All eyes will be on the game in Boston, but all eyes really will be on Miami," he said before the Celts' first matchup of the year with the Heat. "Once the game starts, it doesn't matter."

And yet, the Celtics' behavior on the court would suggest they've taken that disrespect to heart.

Despite second-half letdowns, they came out guns-blazing in both games against Miami, outscoring them by a combined 106-76 in the first half. And they played rough, racking up 30 personal fouls in the second meeting and banging in the low post for a total of 74 points in the paint between the two tilts.

Think those were just another two wins for Boston?

Paul Pierce tweeted after the Nov. 11 victory over Miami, "It's been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach," an apparent jab at LeBron's infamous line in "The Decision."

Glen "Big Baby" Davis could be heard in the locker-room afterward, shouting about "spanking" the Heat.

And that excitement, make no mistake about it, came from a sense of frustration with the attention being heaped upon a 6-4 Miami squad. Heck, Nate Robinson's own son isn't giving the Celtics their due. "He won't care,'' Robinson said after the Celtics' season-opening win over the Heat. "His favorite players are LeBron and D-Wade. It's all he talks about.''

Now, finally, the analysts are starting to come around. In Stein's most recent rankings, the Celtics have climbed to the No. 1 spot, with the Heat falling to 7. Hollinger has Boston at No. 3.

It's yet to be seen whether that new mindset will help or hurt Boston. But rest assured, if this is the way the Celtics play as the underdog, Doc Rivers is hoping for all the disrespect he can get.

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