Rajon Rondo is right. The Celtics do need to toughen up if they're going to be more than Ocean Drive roadkill for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
Allowing a virtual layup line as the Celtics did in Game 1 -- Miami had 19 layups -- is utterly unacceptable.
But the answer is not coming out tonight in Game 2 and turning AmericanAirlines Arena into a mosh pit, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into tackling dummies and Miami's slam dunks into body slams. That's not the Celtics' game, especially with designated enforcer Kendrick Perkins now applying his frontcourt frontier justice in Oklahoma City. Perk was quite the deterrent Tuesday night when the Thunder allowed 120 points to the Spurs, no?
The Celtics are a tough team, but their don't-mess-with-us mien hasn't been defined by physical prowess as much as mental fortitude. That's the type of toughness the Celtics need against the Heat, the kind that allows you to prevail in a hostile environment against the odds, the kind that plants a seed of doubt in the opponent's psyche.
These Celtics are tough because they don't quit. They're undeterred by age or injury. They're hyper-competitive and uber-stubborn. That's the toughness advantage that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rondo, Ray Allen and Co. are supposed to enjoy in this series.
It's also what was missing from Game 1 once Miami pulled away in the third quarter. The Celtics became stagnated and frustrated. Trailing by 11, Boston's first four possessions of the fourth quarter of Game 1 went: Keyon Dooling hopeless 3-pointer, Ray Allen missed 20-foot jumper, Brandon Bass brutal missed jumper and Mickael Pietrus 24-foot prayer.
The closest shot was Bass's 17-footer, and this was with both Garnett and Rondo on the floor.
Rather than heeding Rondo's call to send James and Wade to the floor, I'd rather see Rondo and Pierce go to the free throw line, something that never happened in Game 1.
Going Olivia Newton-John ("physical, physical") with the Heat is not a recipe for success for the Green. It was the Celtics who became distracted when faced with physical play in their last series. In Game 4 against the 76ers, they blew an 18-point third quarter lead in part because Evan Turner and his cohorts resorted to chippy tactics. Afterwards, coach Doc Rivers declared his team lost its composure.
A bruise and bang strategy has already failed against the Heat in these playoffs. The Indiana Pacers tried to rough up the Heat. All they did was awaken the two-headed monster of LeBron and D-Wade.
Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough did exactly what Rondo has endorsed, sending Wade to the deck with a hard foul in Game 5, drawing blood -- and the Heat's ire. It didn't slow down Wade, and the Heat punked the Pacers with a pair of retaliatory flagrant fouls via hitmen Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman, prodding Celtics legend and Indiana president Larry Bird to label his team "soft"
The approach completely backfired on the Pacers, as it inspired Miami.
The way to undermine the Heat and make its best players uncomfortable is not to create physical challenges but mental ones, which is what Indiana did by outplaying them and taking a 2-1 series lead.
The Heat are labeled as fragile front-runners, a team that wilts under the weight of impossible expectations, endless enmity and enormous egos. When confronted with adversity they become unhinged.
Who can forget Wade heatedly bickering with coach Erik Spoelstra in the huddle during the Heat's Game 3 loss to the Pacers? Remember Spoelstra announcing that Heat players were crying in the locker room after a loss to the Bulls last year? How about Wade caterwauling after that same defeat that "The world is better now because the Heat is losing."
Mental stress is much more damaging to the Heat than physical stress. LeBron, one of the three most physically imposing forces in the history of basketball along with Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal, is built to withstand such punishment. There are gymnasts who don't roll on the ground as much as Wade, who seems to complete every acrobatic drive to the hoop with a trip to the floor.
Beating up the Heat isn't the way to beat them. Making them feel the pressure of their unfulfilled promise and confront the idea of another season without a championship is.
The only way for the Celtics to do that is to have KG, Rondo and Pierce produce offensively because the best defense against Miami's relay-race run-outs is a great offense. It's harder to run on made baskets.
The Celtics have now played six playoff games against the hated Heat and lost five. The one game they won came last year, when the Celtics Core Four outscored Miami's unholy hoops trinity of James, Wade and Chris Bosh, who is sidelined with an abdominal injury.
For the Celtics to win against the Heat last year four had to be greater than three. It wasn't and they lost.
The math is different this year because of Bosh's absence and Allen's ankle injury, but the Celtics Three and a Half Men have to be greater than Miami's dynamic duo. LeBron (32 points) and Wade (22) outscored Rondo, Garnett and Pierce by a score of 54-51 in Game 1.
That can't happen.
The great fear, however, is that James is now immune to any type of psychological warfare from the Celtics. He laughed in KG's face in Game 1 when Garnett was taunting him.
Monday night was the ninth time that James has scored 30 or more points against the Celtics in the Big Three Era in 19 playoff games. James now has a winning record against the Celtics in playoff games -- 10-9. The Jedi mind tricks might no longer work.
The Celtics have to make the game tougher on James and Wade, but acting tough isn't the answer. Displaying their trademark mental toughness is.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.