Celtics dust off the swagger
Leading the Orlando series 2-0, the confidence comes easy for Pierce and Co.
ORLANDO -- Floored by a forearm shiver from Magic center Dwight Howard while trying to complete a second-quarter layup, Celtics captain Paul Pierce needed a pit stop with team trainer Ed Lacerte before shooting the free throws that came with the flagrant foul 1.
Pierce, his headband askew, stood facing the Orlando fans and endured their venom as Lacerte attended to the area around his left eye. Pierce just nodded solemnly and glared back at the blue-and-white-clad fans behind the Boston bench.
A vengeful Pierce responded by pouring in a team-high 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting, adding five rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes. He spent the final 31 seconds of the game on the bench after fouling out, but sprang up in celebration when Jameer Nelson's desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was off target, giving the Celtics a 95-92 triumph in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Walking off the court, a fired-up Pierce stared back at the crowd and announced to the dejected masses, "See y'all next year." He then turned toward his teammates and added, "Two more now, let's be greedy."
Forget "Ubuntu" -- Boston has its swagger back. And that may be far more important in determining if the Celtics are ultimately able to win a world title than any humanist philosophy aimed at promoting team unity.
These Celtics aren't exactly the feel-good type. Boston wants to beat you up and then they're going to take your lunch money, too.
In an ultraphysical Game 2, the Celtics endured every haymaker Howard and Co. offered, and bounced back with two of their own. The Magic tried desperately to even this series with a late rally, and the Boston team of a month ago would have crumbled under the adversity.
Not now. These Celtics have put together five consecutive postseason wins and are headed back to Boston with a commanding 2-0 series advantage.
Also packed on their carry-on: an undeniable confidence.
Pierce's official Twitter page contained an update after the game that asked, "Anybody got a BROOM?" that has since been taken down. The company that manages digital media for Pierce, Athlete Interactive, tweeted after the game that Pierce's account was hacked and it was not Pierce that posted the message.
Regardless, Howard was asked about the tweet after the game.
"Am I supposed to have a comment on that?" Howard said. "No, they only won two games. I mean, they can write what they want. But we're going to stay humble and stay focused. Pride comes before a fall, just know that."
But what has staying humble ever gotten anyone? Sports are ruthless. Teams that stay humble win sportsmanship awards. Teams that are cutthroat win titles.
The Celtics are the undisputed kings of the trash talk. Sometimes opponents can't help but wonder how this team can possibly play at this level while flapping their gums for 48 minutes.
But Kevin Garnett suggests not all the talking is brash.
"All in all, it's the defense," said Garnett. "We are coming down and we are very talkative. Communication is very loud out there. We're in a hostile environment and we are playing sound basketball."
And what about the physical nature of this series?
"[The physicality] is no different from the Cleveland series. It's the conference finals, so it's going to be aggressive and physical. We understand that."
Pierce admitted as much when he noted he wasn't upset at all about the flagrant foul from Howard.
"It was a good foul, man," said Pierce. "A playoff foul. It didn't warrant an ejection. When you get to the hole in the playoffs, you have to expect hard fouls. It's going both ways. You look up, we got 29 personal fouls, they got 25. So you have to expect it to be physical. That's about it. Keep taking your lumps and keep your composure and keep moving on. It's that type of game."
And it has been that type of season. Boston got hacked by the rest of the league for four months after the calendar flipped to 2010. But ever since the playoffs arrived, they've been punching back.
Add in the fact that they were dubbed underdogs for their inconsistent play headed into the postseason, and Boston has been downright insufferable.
"I use a number of things to inspire me," said Pierce. "Just playing the underdog role, me individually, that's been a role I've played pretty much my whole career. A lot of these guys, I think, in the locker room really take that personal.
"Our goal was still the same going into the playoffs: to win a championship. We said it in the preseason, we said it in training camp. The good thing is we are keeping our eye on our goal. It doesn't matter what people write about us, or what people say on television. We know the team we have in this room is championship-caliber. It's just starting to come together at the right time."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: CELTICS-MAGIC
GAME 6: CELTICS 96, MAGIC 84
GAME 5: MAGIC 113, CELTICS 92
GAME 4: MAGIC 96, CELTICS 92
GAME 3: CELTICS 94, MAGIC 71
GAME 2: CELTICS 95, MAGIC 92
GAME 1: CELTICS 92, MAGIC 88
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