WALTHAM, Mass. -- After nearly 10 months of build-up, a Celtics-Heat playoff series is finally a reality and no amount of hyperbole will be spared. Try as he might to remind everyone that it's still only the Eastern Conference semifinals, and Boston's ultimate goal remains a world title, even Celtics captain Paul Pierce couldn't resist a spin in the hype machine.
"I know there's going to be a lot of hype around it, like it's a championship series, but you've got to understand it's still just the second round," said Pierce. "But a very big second round because you've got two potential teams that can win it all. I'm excited. This is a great stage for basketball. It's going to be great for fans and the guys that we have here love these type of series.
"We knew it was going to probably eventually happen at one point or another. Before the season if we were going to where we needed to be as a championship team we knew we were going to have to play Miami. So it's finally here and I'm sure it's the much-anticipated battle everybody's been waiting on."
A day after practicing in opponent limbo, the Celtics could finally turn their full attention to the Heat Thursday at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint. This after Miami polished off the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night in Game 5 of a conference quarterfinal series. Even though it seemed inevitable paths would cross, it hasn't taken any of the buzz out of the series as Sunday's Game 1 approaches.
"We assumed when they put this team together that, if we wanted to put another banner up, we’d probably have to go through them," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "So it’s official. And that’s good."
Added Glen Davis: "I'm excited. We've always seen ourselves playing them. Everybody kind of figured that we were going to play them. Now it's time to go."
A few more notes from practice:
* ShaqWatch: Skeleton work: Rivers offered a bit of a surprise when he noted that ailing center Shaquille O'Neal would participate in skeleton (non-contact) drills during Thursday's session (this a day after saying O'Neal wouldn't engage in any activity until Friday). As Rivers has pointed out in the past, he could do skeleton work, so it's not much to get excited about. Friday remains the more important day as the Celtics hope O'Neal will engage in more basketball activities that day and offer a better indication of his status for the early portion of this series. "He's going to do a little bit today, actually," said Rivers. "Not much, he's just going to do skeleton work today and then practice tomorrow, hopefully. That's the latest."
* Celtics = motivation for LeBron?: Asked if he felt playoff matchups with the Celtics were personal now for James, given his postseason struggles against Boston, Pierce agreed with the suggestion. "Probably so at this point," said Pierce. "When you lose to a team consecutive times in the playoffs -- I mean, it would be personal for me. I'm sure he's going to take it personal and you've got to expect his best."
* Bosh = Miami X-factor?: Pierce also suggested that Chris Bosh remains the potential key player for Miami. "Well I think they've done a better job of really implementing Bosh [since the start of the season]," said Pierce. "I thought at the beginning of the year, he was sort of the odd man out. But, to me, he's sort of like the key for them, because you know LeBron and [Dwyane] Wade are going to get theirs every night. Usually when [Bosh] plays well, they're a tough team to beat."