Nobody will pay it any attention, since Kevin Garnett's comments about Philadelphians being "fair-weather fans" is sure to dominate any conversation concerning this Eastern Conference semifinal series. Quietly, however, there is a growing respect for the Sixers in the Celtics' locker room.
There was never a total lack of respect, as some observers have speculated, yet the Celtics' tone in talking about their second-round opponent has gradually changed as the series has gone on. Paul Pierce paid a high compliment to the feisty Sixers on Monday, calling them one of the toughest teams the Celtics have faced in years.
"We understand how difficult it is," Pierce said of the series. "Nothing's easy. You've got a very resilient Philadelphia group who just won't go away. I take my hat off to them. They are one of the better teams we even played in the last few years because of their fight. They've got great coaches and their players are mentally tough. We know they're not going to go away."
At the outset of the series, the Celtics spoke about the Sixers' youth and athleticism. Philadelphia can play with a lineup that features guard-like quickness at four positions when they stick 'tweener Thaddeus Young at power forward, and Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams each brings his own game-changing skill set.
Some things about a team cannot be gleaned from video work, though. The Sixers' defensive strengths come not only from their athleticism, but also from their tenacity, the Celtics have noted after several games. Celtics guard Keyon Dooling went out of his way to praise the Sixers' resilience in Game 4, when Philadelphia wiped out an 18-point third-quarter deficit.
The Sixers' lack of a consistent inside or outside scoring threat was expected to doom them against the experienced Celtics in four or five games. Instead, the series heads back to Philadelphia with the Celtics ahead 3-2. The series could very easily be 3-2 in favor of the Sixers. Garnett may have doubts about the dedication of Sixers fans, but the Celtics have no such doubts about the Sixers themselves.
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