By A.Sherrod Blakely
MIAMI If the playoffs go as expected, there's a very good chance the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics will see each other in the second round of the playoffs. Even though Boston won the head-to-head series, more stock will surely be put in the way Miami manhandled the Celtics, 100-77, on Sunday.
Aside from the first six or seven minutes, this game was all Miami.
Not only did the Heat emerge victorious, but they showed something that so many questioned even existed when they took the floor with the Celtics -- toughness.
You can sift through all the stats you want.
Miami won the battle on the boards (44-26). The Heat forced more turnovers (19 to 18), which led to more points (17 to 11). Miami also outscored the C's in second-chance points (18-3) and fast-break points (12-3).
But more than anything else, the Heat hit a level of toughness that no one -- especially not the Celtics -- could have saw coming.
And toughness isn't about pushing guys around or knocking them on their keister.
We're talking about mental toughness, the kind that allowed the Heat to fall behind 8-zip and not panic.
We're talking about the kind of mental toughness that allowed Miami to witness its 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter be cut to just 10 points, only to push it back to a 23-point win.
Anyone who knows Kevin Garnett is aware that he's not one to praise teams and players just for the sake of praising them.
His thoughts on the Heat after Sunday's game show a man who doesn't see this team with the same lens as he did prior to the loss.
"They showed some resilience when we took the lead," Garnett said. "They were able to take the punch. The things that they've been through throughout the year, it seems as though they have gathered some tough skin and figured out a way to show resilience and play through tough times, and it showed on Sunday. They took the first punch and never looked back."
Said Dwyane Wade: "Today we proved that we are a much better team than we showed in the previous three games against Boston."
Wade and LeBron James spent more time than usual breaking down video of the Celtics, looking for ways to reverse the Celtics' dominance over them this season.
"The Celtics do a great job of trying to keep you out of the paint, and we know when we drive they pack the paint a lot," said Wade. "We needed to get guys open looks, and we both did that."
And while the Heat certainly look to be in good shape to clinch the No. 2 seed in the East, a Miami loss in one of its last two games -- at Atlanta and at Toronto, respectively -- coupled with Boston wins over Washington and New York, will result in the Celtics being the No. 2 seed.
That's why the mood among the Heat players was tempered after what was arguably Miami's biggest win of the year.
"This game means nothing if we don't come out against Atlanta and play with the same aggression and intensity," James said. "We have to understand that we have no time to look back."