MIAMI - There will be no respite for the weary Celtics when they meet the Miami Heat Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, less than 48 hours after an 85-75 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
At least the Celtics are used to abnormally quick turnarounds, after playing 66 regular-season games in 124 days and, since the postseason started April 29, another 13 playoff contests.
The compacted schedule has helped form the team’s identity. The Celtics have proven to be a resourceful, spirited group.
And, despite having three future Hall of Famers and an All-Star point guard, they have shaped themselves as overachievers.
There is an underdog feeling about the Celtics, who had been written off long ago, the Big Three on their last legs and even the younger players cursed by medical problems.
But the Celtics have carried on in the face of adversity and injuries, and are now plunging headlong into the inferno.
And this will be another difficult turnaround, not allowing the Celtics to deal with the fatigue accumulated by two weeks of battling the Sixers.
The Celtics proved they could overcome athleticism and youth, knocking off the Atlanta Hawks in six games and the Sixers in seven. But they would have been better served by concluding those series earlier.
“It’s been taxing,’’ coach Doc Rivers said after Game 7 of the Philadelphia series. “You know, obviously, we would have loved to have won in Philly [in Game 6]. We’d loved to have won in Atlanta and finished it off. But, you know, those teams are good and they’re hard to play.
“We’ve done, I’m hoping, a good enough job of rest. We didn’t practice one time in this entire [Sixers] series, which is unheard of in a playoff series, when you think about it. We walked through stuff; literally, we didn’t run in a walkthrough. [Sunday] we’re going to watch film, shootaround we’ll walk through, and we’ll go play a game.
“The way we look at it with this team is [Sunday’s] off and most of Monday’s off and then we play. We just don’t have the bodies. We don’t have the legs to do anything else. But I love where we’re at. I told them after the game, ‘This is exactly where we thought we would be,’ and we’re going to Miami.’’
Along the way, the Celtics solidified what Rivers describes as a “grinding’’ style of play.
“I’ve said it all year, we don’t have a big margin of error,’’ he said. “We play like that. And at times when we struggle, teams make runs on us. And it’s hard, but that’s who we are. I don’t think we can win games by 20 or 25. With this group, right now, with what we have going on, it’s hard to do. But our mind-set is that we have to grind games. That’s how we go into games, with that thought, and I think that’s how we have to think.’’
But that battling style is augmented by precision and skill. And, when the Celtics are in a groove and physically up to speed, their offense functions smoothly. That happened during stretches against the Hawks and Sixers, especially when Kevin Garnett found room for pick-and-pops on the perimeter.
Now, though, the Celtics will be put to the test by a different level of foe.
The Celtics defeated the Heat in three of four encounters during the regular season.
“It gives us some sort of confidence,’’ Paul Pierce said. “We know we are capable of going in their building and getting the win. But they’re a different team.
“It’s a lot different from regular season to playoffs, it’s a different mind-set. Teams get a chance to scout you, take a couple days and go over every single play you run. It’s not just a day of practice during the regular season. All your strengths, all the things you do well, you’ve got to expect them to try and take those things away. They are going to be a lot more difficult than they were in the regular season.
“The way [the Sixers] guarded me, the way they took me all over the floor, I think this is really preparing me for Miami and some of the things they might try to do on me. So, mentally I feel good.’’