The Boston Celtics defied all the odds in Florida two nights ago to take a 3-2 lead in their series with the Miami Heat.
After a 94-90 victory, the Celtics lie one victory away from being crowned the Eastern Conference Champions. If the Celtics can beat the Heat tonight, they will go on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals to determine the 2012 NBA Champions.
The Celtics definitely cannot make the mistake of looking past the Heat just because they have swung home-court advantage in their favor. There is some sense that the Celtics are only in this position now because the Heat somewhat overlooked them.
Effort and determination has played a major part in this series so far. As Rajon Rondo pointed out in Miami, the Heat were bickering with officials opposed to being completely focused on their responsibilities. Plenty of calls have gone against the Celtics in this series, in particular against Rajon Rondo attacking the basket, but rarely have the Celtics used that as an excuse to not work back on defense.
While Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are putting up relatively big numbers, the drive to make the extra effort hasn't been there. In fact the whole Heat roster appears quite passive save for rookie Norris Cole, who has brought an exuberance and energy to the court in his very limited minutes.
There is no doubting the talent gap between the Celtics and Heat at the respective stages of their careers. However, the talent gap isn't so great that the Heat can slumber through this series and expect to win.
While Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass and even Mickael Pietrus have all given 100 percent every game, the Heat have been up and down from quarter to quarter. At times they have shut the Celtics down, other times the Celtics have scored 30+ because of a lack of defensive effort.
Tonight the pressure is off the Heat. Erik Spoelstra's side tend to excel when the pressure is off. Most people expect the Celtics to close the series out at home after winning the last three games. The only problem is the Celtics have survived to this point by defying the odds.
Fight. Passion. Effort. Resilience. Determination.
Those are the characteristics of this Celtics team. Those characteristics translate to intensity on the court. Intensity tends to dissipate when the expectations of your opposition are lowered. After fighting off the hype about their demise this year, the Celtics can't fall into the trap of believing the positive hype.
After his return, which was more like a first half cameo, in the last game, Chris Bosh is expected to play significant minutes tonight for the Heat. Bosh could even start. The Celtics should be blowing up Bosh's return as much as possible.
The Celtics are yet to face the Heat's big three. Bosh's return could have a massive impact on the performances of Kevin Garnett. Garnett needs to see that as a challenge and rise to it, while his teammates have to raise their own expectations of themselves entering this crucial Game 6.
It may be a Game 6, but because of their 3-2 victory, the Celtics should be treating this game as a Game 7.
All sports are significantly mental. How you approach the game is just as important as how talented you are. The mindset of the Miami Heat right now is that they are up-against it. There is a certain element of defeat creeping in also as they have so much more to do to catch up to the Celtics.
However if the Heat win tonight, that mindset drastically changes. It is one thing for the Celtics to rebound and win a Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers, if the Heat win tonight there will likely be no stopping them in Miami in Game 7.
The Heat have proven to be excellent front-runners. While they may be tied if they win tonight, momentum will definitely swing their way for the series as a whole.
TD Garden will host the most important game of the Celtics' season tonight, that is only if they lose it.For everything Boston Celtics and New England Patriots, follow @ICSportsCentral on twitter