It appears the swagger that had been noticeably absent from the Boston Celtics during the 2010 regular season may have returned to 2008 levels.
A beaming Paul Pierce, looking into the camera while being interviewed after the Boston Celticsâ€™ occasionally thrilling, occasionally sloppy Eastern Conference Final Game Two win over the Orlando Magic, told Celtics fans that the Celtics are â€œâ€¦coming home to close it out!â€ Pierce ended his interview with a wink and a nod to the Boston faithful.
My girlfriend, a Celtics fan of much more recent vintage than myself, remarked afterwards how Pierce is, simply, â€œthe manâ€.
He sure is, dear.
Of course, there is much more to this series and the Celticsâ€™ renewed confidence than the fine play of Paul Pierce, seemingly rejuvenated in this Orlando series after being relieved of the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James for six games.
Ray Allen has been mostly exceptional during this playoff run, coming off screens and hitting threes like he did back when Seattle had an NBA franchise. For 2011, he may be playing himself into a contract amount larger than the mid-level exception.
A (somewhat) healthy Kevin Garnett is playing well in the post, creating matchup problems, and playing great help defense. More importantly, Garnett is setting the tone for the team defensively, the difference between having a healthy Garnett on the floor rather than a hurt or absent Garnett is remarkable and noticeable to even the most casual observer.
The play of the bench has been inspired, from the fine play of the normally infuriating Tony Allen, to the inexplicable rejuvenation of the doughy, insane Rasheed Wallace. Remarkably, the second unit has kept up the defensive intensity of the first when they find themselves on the floor.
However, the Celticsâ€™ best player throughout the playoffs has been budding superstar Rajon Rondo.
Two years ago, the spindly kid from Louisville was a complimentary player, deferring to the Big Three whenever possible, as he should have. These days, the offense truly runs thorough him, combining supreme athletic ability with the smarts and court vision of a player far beyond his years. 2010 has been his coming out party, with the national pundits giving Rondo his due, placing him in the conversation with Utahâ€™s Deron Williams, New Orleansâ€™ Chris Paul, and the ageless, brilliant Steve Nash as one of the premier point guards in the NBA.
Combine the teamâ€™s fine all around play and strong personalities with the Big Threeâ€™s sense of urgency to win another championship (surely know that their window is closing), and you get the perfect storm of cockiness, with the all important ability to back it up.