BOSTON For a team long on letdowns and disappointing losses this season, Sunday's 91-72 win over the Miami Heat was arguably the Celtics' most impressive win to date.
But if you didn't know it was a win over Miami, you would have sworn it was no bigger than the C's beating a non-elite team like Minnesota or Milwaukee.
For many Celtics players, the victory only validated what they felt they were capable of doing all season.
But for those on the outside, it showed that the Celtics can do more than just compete with the elite -- they can beat them, too.
"Well, I don't know if it does anything for our confidence," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Honestly, I think we know we're playing well. I thought our guys, honestly . . . they wanted to play this game tonight but I don't think they had a confidence issue about the game, if you know what I'm saying. So, it may give other people confidence in us but I think our guys are a pretty confident group. They feel they can play with anyone."
The Celtics (30-22) have won five in a row, have a one-game lead in the Atlantic Division over Philadelphia for the No. 4 seed in the East, and are now just 1.5 games behind Orlando for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
"We are starting to hit our stride at the right time," said C's forward Paul Pierce. "This is a huge week for us, a lot of contending teams."
In addition to the Heat on Sunday, the Celtics host another red-hot team of veterans, San Antonio, on Wednesday with a road game at Chicago the following night. From there, the Celtics are at Indiana on Saturday and return home to face Philadelphia on Sunday.
"It's a good time to see where we are at and how we measure up against the best going into the playoffs," Pierce said.
Boston's next six games are all against teams that either lead their respective divisions or are currently locked into a playoff spot.
"Our confidence is pretty high, but not just because of this win," said C's guard Keyon Dooling. "I think we can feel it; we're playing better, everybody is settling into their role. The coaching staff is comfortable with the rotations and guys are just playing. We're just playing, we're just playing, playing free. we know our schemes offensively and defensively. And we're starting to see our chemistry getting better."
Making the C's run of late even more impressive has been how it has come despite the Celtics being without key players due to injuries.
Ray Allen's right ankle injury has kept him out of the last six games for Boston. His backup, Mickael Pietrus, has been out since suffering a concussion on March 23 at Philadelphia. Without those two, Boston has gone with Avery Bradley at the shooting guard position.
And then there were the season-ending surgeries to Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (heart condition) that left Greg Stiemsma as the team's only big man off the bench until they recently picked up Ryan Hollins.
"What I'm happy about is our resiliency, our fight, knowing that we have a lot of injuries, knowing that Ray's not out there, knowing that we are missing some key people due to injury," Pierce said. "This team continues to find a way through all the adversity. This is a big win for us; it gives us a lot of confidence knowing that we can beat the best teams in the league."
And while the Celtics certainly came away feeling good about Sunday's win, they are well aware that there's plenty of room for improvement.
"We're a team that, to me, is still trending up," Rivers said. "And that's a good thing."