For the Celtics, Toughness Means a Few Things

 Before we go around determining which teams are tough, which teams aren't, and which teams pretend to be, it's important to determine what "tough" actually is - at least in the game of basketball.

Of course, the definition will differ depending on who's asked, but members of these Boston Celtics know "tough" - whether Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith does remains to be seen. Smith questioned the Celtics' toughness recently, saying, "They act tough. They aren't really tough. They act tough."

So, Otis, what is tough? Let's find out what the Celtics aren't.

"What translates into being tough in basketball are the guys who aren't afraid to go to the hole, take charges, get on the floor, get the extra possessions - just doing that small work that doesn't show up on the stat sheet," Ray Allen said.

"That to me, you can have the nicest guys doing those things or the strongest guys, or even the weakest guys doing those things and they don't show up on the stat sheet but they lead to things that do. And that's what makes your team ultimately get labeled as a tough team."

Those characteristics sure sound like some members of the Celtics. Paul Pierce is one of the best in the league at going to the hole, Glen Davis must lead the league in charges taken by a landslide, and just about everyone on the team, even Shaquille O'Neal last night, gets on the floor.

But it's certainly not just the physical aspect that makes a team tough. Like finding success in most things, where your head is at will determine how far you go.

"I think mental toughness, at the end of the day, it will win out," Allen said. "Because 82 games, so many things can just throw you off track if you're not mentally strong.

"I have tough guys here mentally," Allen continued. "Guys are stubborn, very ornery about doing their job and being held accountable. But in the course of my career some guys just the smallest little things throw them off, and you have to be tough to be a professional athlete."

Plenty of guys aren't tough - not everyone can be. But toughness can be taught, and according to Kevin Garnett it starts at the top.

"I think what makes a team tough is the leaders on there," Garnett said. "I think it starts with the coach first. The next is the players, how much grit and heart your players have. And I'm not just talking about the first five or the first eight - I'm talking A-Z. To me toughness is both physical and mental, but any tough team starts with their coach."

Nate Robinson was quick to echo Garnett's line of thinking.

"Each and every guy plays with that swagger like each guy knows that nobody else can mess with him," he said. "It goes from Doc all the way down to [Luke] Harangody. Harangody busts his butt in practice every time he's out there hustling. He gets the job done.

"You need gritty guys like that that just don't care about getting their hands dirty, falling on the ground. Each guy will do just about whatever it takes to win here, and that's beautiful."

If it starts with the coach, then consider Doc Rivers one of the toughest guys in the league. He's taken a group of superstars and made them think "we" not "me" - that's a pretty tough task. That mentality is something that guys like Robinson may not have been fond of before coming here.

"To me, being tough means you have to have a team full of front line guys that want to go to war and be on the front line," Robinson said. "Kind of like the ‘Gladiator'. Maximus, he was a beast."

One thing is for sure; if the Celtics are going to war, they're happy to have Shaq on their front line.

"I told the guys it's all about us," O'Neal said. "We don't need any calls, we don't need any help - just know what we need to do and go out and do it."

So call them tough, or soft, or whatever it is you feel they are. It doesn't matter to them.

"We know who we are," Allen said. "We know what we need to do to win. Everybody knows who they are and we just try to stick to the script."

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