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John Schuhmann

So far in the playoffs, Ray Allen has shown his All-Star form of old.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

With each win, Celtics regaining status as true contenders

Posted Apr 23 2010 10:24AM

MIAMI -- A little over a month ago, LeBron James was asked about the regular season struggles of the Celtics. Unlike a lot of fans and pundits who had watched the Celtics lose to teams like the Nets and Pistons, James wasn't ready to say that Boston's run as a contender was over.

"I think they're bored of the regular season and are ready for a challenge in the playoffs," James said.

The reigning MVP seems to know the Celtics better than those of us who, noting their 27-27 record after Christmas, thought Boston would struggle in their first-round series against the Heat. This was a team that needed seven games to dispatch of its previous two first-round opponents, both lesser foes than this Heat team (which was playing its best basketball at the end of the season).

The Boston-Miami series is certainly not over. Boston was in this same position, up 2-0 after two home games, against the Hawks two seasons ago. The Hawks evened the series at 2-2. But with the way they've dominated Miami over the last 5 quarters, the Celtics have proven that regular-season momentum doesn't mean squat.

The Celtics have shut down every Heat player not named Dwyane Wade, making it hard to imagine that the series will go beyond five games. And the way the Celtics have come alive offensively has forced us to re-evaluate just where they stand in the hierarchy of title contenders.

We thought that the Celtics were a big step below the Cavs, Lakers and Magic. We thought they had lost their bite defensively and didn't have much better than an average offense. And when they said that things would be different in the playoffs, we didn't believe them. Because they looked more old than bored.

We may have been wrong.

Right now, the Celtics look more like the team that started the season 23-5. They look like they'll be a lot more than a speed bump for James' Cavs in a likely rematch of the 2008 East semifinals.

Too early to go there? Maybe. But you can't help but start thinking that way after watching Games 1 and 2. Specifically, it has been the resurfacing of the Celtics' stifling defense -- even with Kevin Garnett missing Game 2 -- that makes us believe that they're more dangerous than expected.

The Celtics ranked fifth defensively in the regular season and just 13th after the All-Star break, but they've been the best defense in the playoffs thus far, allowing the Heat to shoot 39 percent and score a paltry 153 points on 177 possessions. They were able to win Game 1 without getting much offense. When their shots started to fall in Game 2, the Heat had no chance.

Garnett looked as healthy as he's been all season in Game 1. Ray Allen looked like an All-Star again in Game 2. With Tony Allen and Glen Davis both contributing, Doc Rivers has a seemingly reliable bench for the first time in a while.

Still, it was just two games. And the Celtics have yet to show us real resolve by winning on the road. Friday in Miami they can prove, by putting a stranglehold on this series, that the regular season meant nothing.

Of course, the Celtics have failed in this situation before.

"That's all I think about now," Allen said on Wednesday, referring to losses to the Hawks in Games 3 and 4 of their first-round series in 2008. "It resonates so big with this team now, because we were flying high, up two. I think we blew them out both games [in Boston]. We had all played in that building before, so we didn't expect what we saw when we got out. That building carried them to two victories there."

Taking a 3-0 series lead by winning Friday in Miami -- with the Heat desperate for a win -- will be a lot tougher than the first two games. But the Celtics had the second-best road record (26-15) in the league this season. And as they did for Game 2, they've had two full days off to rest those old legs.

A win Friday gets them not only closer to the conference semifinals, but puts them back in the conversation about a title.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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