Two months after Doc Rivers called the Boston Celtics a "soft team," the words are still fresh on Kevin Garnett's mind.
Rivers made the comment following the Celtics altercation with the Brooklyn Nets in late November, a scuffle which resulted in a suspension for Rajon Rondo and fines for Garnett and Gerald Wallace.
Now the Celtics are facing adversity far greater than heated exchanges with Kris Humphries -- season-ending injuries to both Rondo (ACL) and Jared Sullinger (lumbar disc). Garnett sees them proving Rivers' earlier comments wrong.
"Although Doc made his (expletive) comments about us being soft and (expletive), we're a team that will fight and we are a team who is very competitive and we're very prideful," he said. "When you lose pieces and you lose certain things about your team, you learn that you see the fight within each other and you just follow that. More than anything, I think we're just being competitive out here, sharing the basketball, and playing."
The Celtics have responded to their new challenges with a three-game winning streak. They beat the Miami Heat on Sunday without Rondo, dominated the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday after Sullinger left the game with back spasms, and topped the Orlando Magic on Friday down two of their key players.
With every obstacle, the Celtics are upping their roles and making contributions where needed.
Veterans Garnett and Paul Pierce immediately stepped up to lead their team. Pierce has averaged 15.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 7 assists in the last three games, well above his season average of 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. He posted a triple-double against the Heat and back-to-back double-doubles in the next two contests. Garnett is averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds (season average 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds) since Sunday.
On Friday against the Magic, the backcourt trio of Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Leandro Barbosa combined for 38 points, while Jeff Green scored a game-high 17.
In any given game, a different player could take the lead with the team on the same page.
"I told you when Rondo went down that obviously all of us would have to pick up the load," said Garnett. "And now we lost Jared, even more. Jared is a great rebounder for us, great facilitator. The guys now that are getting opportunities are just going to have to come in and, like I said with Rondo, it's going to fall on the backs of everybody."