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I've often wondered why the sport of boxing today has fallen to such incredible lows in popularity. I do fully understand the brutality of the sport and that our country's best athletes can make millions of more dollars playing sports where they don't get their faces bashed in.

Still, all the time you hear people talking about sports in terms of boxing. Two heavyweights feeling each other out early on. One team punching another square in the mouth. Finishing blows, knock-out punches, etc. Boxing is a gauge used to judge other sports. Another boxing phrase can be used to perfectly describe this current edition of the Boston Celtics; They know how to take a punch.

The value of taking a punch is something that cannot be undervalued. If you've never taken a punch before, you can be blind-sided by the after-effects. While you are reeling from the initial blow, your opponent is taking advantage of you. Real fighters can sense someone who doesn't know how to withstand the shock. They will immediately pounce on the victim and from there it is just a matter of when they will win, not if.

This whole season, the Boston Celtics have been taking punches. The NBA Lockout was the initial blow, one felt by the entirety of the association. That first hook to the jaw eliminated a portion of the teams in the league before the season began. The Celtics persevered.
Then the Celtics took rapid fire blows to the abdomen. Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox would miss the season with heart complications. Jermaine O'neal, however you feel about him, would also miss the rest of the season. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo all missed games. The Celtics persevered as still more teams were eliminated from contention.

Another uppercut to the jaw, Mickael Pietrus would miss 17 days with a concussion. The Celtics again persevered.

All season long, Boston has taken punches from the fans, the media, the analysts, and the opposition. All season long they have persevered.

Taking punches is something you can't prepare for. It only comes with experience. The experience of being in fights and having your face bloodied and ribs bruised. The first punch I took caught me completely off-guard. You can brace yourself and think you know what is coming, but you don't. By the time you come to grips with the stinging taste of blood, you are out of the fight.

I don't know how many fights it takes for you to be ready, but it certainly feels like the Celtics now know how to take punches as well as anyone in the league. The past six games have been a shining example of that. Two straight gut-checks from the Spurs and Doc Rivers' tirade post-Bulls game put things back in perspective following the Heat blow-out.

Boston tasted the blood after those games. They saw the black eyes and fat lips in the mirrors of the Garden locker room. Then they reeled off four wins in five days, all against playoff-bound competition. The Celtics had taken the best punches the league, the fans and the media could throw at them and they were still fighting. The value of taking a punch is knowing that you can still stand. It is not being shocked, but being firm, rolling with it and accepting.

Look at this roster. The big three have taken a careers worth of abuse on their bodies and minds. Rondo is (sometimes rightfully) criticized at every turn, taking pot-shots from analysts left and right. Two months ago, Avery Bradley was buried on the bench, another first round bust of Danny Ainge. Greg Stiemsma's improbable path carried him around the world, busting his ass in front of crowds of no more than 200 while in the D-League. This is a team that has taken blows.

With those blows comes understanding. The second time I was hit in the mouth, ironically came on a basketball court. A ball had been flung into my chest, followed by a fist to the nose. This time it didn't shock me, I took it and two minutes later, it wasn't me who's back was slammed against the padded wall.

Do the Celtics have the rest of the league up against the wall?

No, Boston isn't close to perfect or dominant. They realize they will be hit, like the early Lebron alley-oops Tuesday night or the tick-tack fouls on Stiemsma yesterday. They also realize that even beaten down, they have something valuable that may help them in May and June, something other teams may not have. They know the value of being able to take a punch.

Walsh 4/12/2012 06:00:00 PM Edit
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