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Fran Blinebury

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett embodies the chippy attitude of these Boston Celtics.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Snarling, sneering Celtics dare so-called rivals to step up

Posted Feb 10 2011 11:47AM

These Celtics are not good because of their size, though they have enough beanstalks on the roster to climb up through the clouds.

These Celtics are not capable because of their age, though they have the collective wisdom -- and maybe as much hair -- as a grizzled Yoda.

These Celtics are not skillful because of their sheer talent, though they have a lineup that might as well be the riches of Croesus, one that includes four current All-Stars.

These Celtics are downright scary because of their attitude.

Driven. Ruthless. Vengeful.

On the surface and in the social media world, this is a Celtics team that everyone wants to "friend." Maybe that's because their newest addition, Shaquille O'Neal, has spent much of his time acting less like the Most Dominant Ever and more like a fuzzy resident of Sesame Street. From posing for photos in Harvard Square to slipping into the largest tuxedo on the planet and conducting the Boston Pops, Shaq has become the pied piper that fans love to follow on Twitter.

Maybe it's because the diminutive Nate Robinson and the overstuffed sofa that is Glen Davis have kept the atmosphere light with the recurring antics of Shrek and Donkey.

Yet behind all those smiles and laughs is a cold, bloodless bunch that doesn't merely hope to play for another championship, but fully expects to win it.

Remember a year ago, when after edging the Lakers by a point at the Staples Center, coach Doc Rivers collected $100 from every member of the Boston traveling party, hid $2,600 in the ceiling tiles of the visitors' locker room and then challenged the team to the NBA Finals to reclaim it?

This time the Celtics strutted into L.A., rolled the Lakers for their lunch money and left the message that they'd be the ones waiting for a June rematch, if somehow Kobe Bryant and his befuddled friends could find their way back.

The Celtics in the Big Three Era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen might always have sprinted away from the starting line and then struggled, hung on and tried to crawl to the finish. Over the previous three seasons, the veteran warriors were a hawk-eyed 71-10 before Christmas and then were beset by injuries and broke apart like crash test dummies

This season the Celtics have once again had their share of injuries. Calf, knee, foot and now Achilles' tendon ailments have sidelined Shaq for 15 games. Kendrick Perkins opened the season on the shelf following knee surgery and is just weeks into his return. Jermaine O'Neal has undergone knee surgery and Marquis Daniels is now out with a bruised spinal cord.

But there is no droop in the Celtics' shoulders, no snap gone out of their step. This time around, general manager Danny Ainge isn't pondering a swap of Allen for a younger, straighter shooter. And Allen isn't pondering retirement. In fact, he's on the verge of breaking Reggie Miller's record for career 3-pointers made and says he's ready for a few more seasons.

These are Celtics who have a brimming cockiness and a don't-give-a-damn-what-you-think approach that has allowed them to roll through the schedule. They are Pierce warmly telling an L.A. autograph seeker what he can do with a Lakers flag that he wants him to sign. They are Rajon Rondo coolly ignoring all of the nit-picking at his weaknesses -- no outside shot, poor free-throw shooting -- and simply dominating games with his driving, passing and defense.

Most of all, they are the volcanic Garnett, so close to the end of his long, nearly-manic road, jawing with Charlie Villanueva and Joakim Noah, then cheaply going after Channing Frye to catch flak from Alvin Gentry, Phil Jackson and even Spike Lee. And not giving a flying flip about any of it.

The Celtics have always had the belief that they're good enough if they're healthy. Now the attitude is that no matter what, you're not. And they've been playing with that sense of ownership since that opening night beat-down of Miami's headline-grabbing trio. After blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead in Game 7 last June, they have been laser-like in their focus, steam-coming-out-of-their-ears furious, intent to not let it happen again.

While there are occasional blotches from losses to Houston, Sacramento, Charlotte and even Cleveland on their record, the Celtics know which games count, which are the contenders and where to deliver their heaviest blows. In head-to-head games against all of the other division leaders this season, the Celtics are 7-2. And against the elite trio of the Heat, Spurs and Lakers, they are 4-0.

Now come consecutive dates at home with L.A. and Miami -- a pair of games packed with emotional TNT -- and you can practically feel the sneer creeping out from that friendly façade.

As the trade deadline nears, would-be contenders scramble for deals that are spackle for the gaps in their lineups. Does Miami have the depth? Do the Spurs have the size? Does Chicago need a shooter? Do even the two-time defending champion Lakers have to consider a drastic move like reaching for Carmelo Anthony?

Then there are the Celtics, who know what they have. Attitude.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. 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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