By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Nobody said this journey to Banner 18 for the Boston Celtics was going to be easy.
It certainly hasn't been lately for the Celtics, winners of two in a row despite trailing by double digits in both games.
The C's mini-winning streak has been fueled by the team's core group, getting it done with a high degree of toughness and grit that has to be on display in order to win this time of year.
Boston's core players get it.
The new guys?
Not so much.
Because of that, Boston's last two victories not only have helped pad the team's win total, but also serve as a teaching moment for the team's new additions.
"It was great for the new guys to see that," coach Doc Rivers said following the team's 96-86 win at New York. "There's a sense of urgency that everyone has to play with. We're getting there with the new guys. We're clearly not there yet."
Aside from Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, the impact of Boston's post-trade deadline additions has been minimal the last two games.
Ray Allen is among the C's not worried about the newer Celtics finding their role and niche in the team's quest for another NBA title.
"If you've never been a part of a team like this, in contention to win a championship, you really don't know," Allen said. "It's the hardest thing you'll ever do in your life. We gotta make sure the new guys understand that. They're going to learn that real quick because the time is upon us."
To win a championship, there's a certain degree of toughness that the Celtics will need to display on a regular basis.
Boston's toughness can certainly be questioned now that their former enforcer, Kendrick Perkins, calls Oklahoma City home.
Rivers understands the void that now exists.
But a relatively healthy Shaquille O'Neal, whom we haven't seen much during the regular season, in the playoffs will certainly help the Celtics on that front.
In the meantime, the veterans will continue to show their newer teammates the Celtics way of doing things that players acknowledge involves being feisty at times.
We saw that in the Knicks game, in which Allen was bloodied after catching an elbow from Jarred Jeffries in his attempt at an offensive rebound, and Carmelo Anthony suffered an outpouring of blood as well when he was hit with an elbow by Rajon Rondo as both tried to corral a loose ball.
In addition to those incidents, Allen and Amar'e Stoudemire had a brief exchange at another point in the game that involved players from both teams being separated.
"We're a feisty team at the end of the day," Boston's Delonte West told CSNNE.com. "When we get away from that, we struggle. We shouldn't need a team to push us to get at what we're good at as a team."
From time to time, the Celtics do need a reminder as to what exactly is there identity.
Rivers did just that during halftime of Monday's win, telling his players that their play up to that point in the game was "soft."
It was the kind of stinging indictment that left the players with a choice: either man up and play better, or simply continue to get pushed around.
They chose the former, which led to their 50th victory of the season, equaling their win total from a year ago with 13 games remaining.
Kevin Garnett, whose intensity has at times gotten under the skin of opponents, said the team's toughness is a reflection of Rivers.
"Our coach teaches a certain style and we try to implement what he wants on the floor," Garnett said. "Doc, he preaches firm; he preaches owning your own space and those things. And when you're not around that or new to that, you just don't get that in one or two days, or one or two weeks or one or two months. It's something that he's going to drill in you. That's what training camp is for. That's what the time with each other is for, so that you understand that style and you adopt it."
Garnett added, "We are a firm basketball team. We're not out here trying to hurt nobody, but we play hard every night."