By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON NBA players and coaches will tell you all the time, games this time of year have little bearing on what you can expect in the playoffs.
But if you massage that theory enough, you'll see it loosen up to the point where you see that there are indeed exceptions.
Sunday's game between Boston and Miami?
That would be one of those exceptions.
At the end of the season, the win-loss tally will tell you it was just one game.
That's a lie, people!
Sunday's game is so much more than just another one of 82 on the schedule.
When these two teams met to open the season and Boston came away with the win, no one made too big a deal about.
Because the Celtics had already gone throughout the morphing from a Big Three triumvirate, to a Fantastic Foursome that now included Rajon Rondo.
Meanwhile, the Heat's Big Three of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too busy trying to not step on each other's toes and in the process, tripped and stumbled their way out to start the season.
When the two met for a second matchup, Miami was better - but not good enough as the Celtics once again came away victorious.
Now that Round Three between the two teams is here, the Celtics are in position to unleash the kind of mental warfare that frankly, I don't believe the Heat can come back from.
Beating the Heat once?
OK, it happens.
Beating them twice?
Still, not that big a deal.
Beating them a third time, with three of their top four centers out and a couple of banged up bodies in the backcourt?
It would easily qualify as the most impressive win of the season for a Celtics team that has already knocked off San Antonio, beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their own building, and won two out of three over the Orlando Magic.
But let's be clear.
Even if the Celtics were at full strength, Sunday afternoon's game would still be a tough one.
Miami comes in riding an eight-game winning streak.
And their win at Detroit on Friday coupled with Boston's home loss to the Lakers on Thursday, gave the Heat a half-game lead in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
But as much as these two teams are speeding ahead for the No. 1 seed in the East, they're battling for something that might be even more valuable.
NBA games are just as much about what happens in between the ears, as it is what happens between the lines.
Miami has not been phased by the two losses to Boston this season because in both instances, there were circumstances by which the games could have been easily dismissed.
But there is no way the Heat could explain away a Celtics victory on Sunday.
Miami's coming in with the better record.
They have a nice eight-game winning streak while the C's have lost three of the last four.
It makes for a matchup that on paper at least, heavily favors the Heat.
But this game isn't being played on paper.
It's being played on the parquet.
And the Celtics have proven repeatedly that in the games in which they are giving the steepest odds of being successful, they are money.
That's why as lopsided as Sunday's game appears to be, the C's are exactly where they need to be.
Now that Ray Allen and the 3-point record are done with, he'll continue to be his usually efficient self.
Paul Pierce will get his share of big buckets from the perimeter.
Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, all of those guys seem to be at their best in big games like this - even if they tell you it's just another one of 82.
That's a lie, people!