When it comes to the 2010-11 Boston Celtics, there are two things you can't question: Desire and toughness.
On Saturday night, we saw the latest example of these two attributes.
Rajon Rondo's turn-your-head-away elbow injury is just one of the many injuries and occurrences this season in which the C's have had to soldier on. Filled with players who are in their mid-to-late thirties, it takes a certain amount of extra oomph to get going - and the reason they've found success this season is because they've all given it.
Let's start with Jermaine O'Neal. Many wrote J.O. off as soon as he started missing games, and questioned his desire to perform for this team. J.O.'s problem was that he didn't want to get mid-season surgery in fear he would miss most of the season and the injury would return.
He got the surgery, spent weeks rehabbing, and is now the starting center for this Celtics team - relatively pain free. It's one thing to get season-ending surgery, or surgery in the offseason, but it's a whole different story to get that surgery done and return in the same season. That shows J.O.'s dedication and will to win. There are some guys in this league that would take the money and sit home, but not J.O. - and his toughness should be commended.
The same goes for Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq surely finds time to do the publicity stunts and all that, but make no mistake about it - he's been in the gym every day rehabbing one injury to the next. You think he cares about the $1 million he's making this season? That's chump change for him.
Shaq cares about that ring, maybe for his own selfish reasons, but he's clearly playing at about 50-percent out there based on his Game 3 performance, and that my friends is what winners do.
In his own way, Ray Allen embodies what desire and toughness is all about. At the later stages in his career - when most players fall off - Allen put up career highs in major categories. I wonder if complete dedication to the game as anything to do with that?
Here's what I'll say about Kevin Garnett: If you have to question his toughness and desire, then you don't know either. People knock KG for picking on smaller players, and maybe they have a point, but don't diminish everything else he does out there on the court. He's worked his butt off his entire career, and gives it all he has every game to this day.
It wouldn't be right to talk about desire and toughness and not mention Delonte West. Talk about your bad luck with injuries. West started the season suspended for ten games only to return and days later break his wrist.
He rehabbed and came back from that, except then he went down again with a sprained ankle. Again, he had to rehab, but always kept his head up and was the last one taking shots in the gym almost every day.
Now, West has a bruised shoulder, but if you think that's going to keep him out, you have another thing coming.
"Yeah, the previous play, I went up for an attempt and I got blocked," West said describing how the shoulder injury occurred. "The way my arm came down, it just got caught up in the mix; it kind of aggravated my rotator cuff. I came back [to the bench] and got a pain shot and got back to it."
It's clear that the warrior attitude of this team goes from top to bottom. There are no slackers, and at the end of the day, that may be the difference.
If Rajon Rondo is going to play through a dislocated elbow injury, that sets the bar pretty high for everyone else on the team.
"Well, when he came back, I said, ‘Well, definitely have no excuse now [not to play],'" said Delonte West on what he thought when Rondo returned to the game.
Allen with bruised ribs? Get out there.
Paul Pierce and the Achilees? How's 27 points sound?
Glen Davis with indigestion? Eh, sit this one out Glen.
You get the idea.
"Regardless of all the injuries that we have, we're a no excuse team," Rondo said. "If I'm on the court, you may see me hold my arm but I'm not going to use it as an excuse. If D. West is out there, it's the same way. That's how we play. That's our mentality.
"We show up Monday night and we're on the court and we're playing. Don't ask me how I feel. I'm going to play regardless. I'm not going to use it as an excuse."
If the Celtics go as Rondo goes, that's the type of attitude you want leading the way.
"We've got a bunch of guys like that," Doc Rivers said. "I've talked about it, it's just ballers. Guys who like playing basketball, and they just play. They find a way. And that's what (Rondo) did."
And based on what Kevin Garnett said after that game, it looks like Rondo has done it a lot this season. There have been games where Rondo hasn't looked like himself, and certainly didn't put up numbers close to what he put up in the beginning of the season. We knew he was dealing with certain injuries at times, but maybe we don't know the half of them.
"I've seen him play through some (injuries)," Garnett said. "I'm not going to go through the list of injuries that you all are unaware of. I'm not going to put him out there like that but I've seen him play through some horrific injuries. All of us sort of look at each other like, ‘What is he doing out here? Is he being smart right now?'
"When he came in, it was just typical Rondo. ‘Shorty' is a really tough, young individual and I don't know what he's going to be like when he's 35 but right now he's playing through a lot. He's showing a lot of heart (and) a lot of grit. We see it. That doesn't go unspoken or unseen. We see he's out there giving his full effort. We're following that lead."
The Celtics didn't roll over and die in Game 3 like some thought. They fought hard and battled through to victory.
Everyone said that when Kendrick Perkins left, the Celtics lost their toughness. Teams no longer feared them.
That toughness has been there all season without Perkins, and continues to be there in the playoffs without him.
And if you don't think the Heat is scared, think again.
"This is it," Garnett said. "This is all in. We don't have any days where we can rest or we can just say, ‘Hey, we're going to take these two days or we're going to give up this game.' This is it."