EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — The Boston Celtics know they have doubters after Game 1 of the NBA finals.
None of them will be wearing green Sunday night.
The Celtics still believe, and they don't care that they might be the only ones after the Lakers easily handled them in a 102-89 victory in the series opener.
"That's fine. That's the way we felt going into the playoffs, that's the way we feel now," forward Paul Pierce said before practice Saturday. "It doesn't matter who believes in us. The important thing is the guys in the locker room believe."
Write off the Celtics at your own risk. They were beaten even worse by Cleveland in Game 3 of the second round, dealt the worst home playoff loss in their proud franchise history, and all they did after that was win six straight games against the two winningest teams in the league this season.
All they need is four victories now to be champions again.
"I'm not a guy that's going to quit," forward Kevin Garnett said. "If I have a goal in mind, that's what I'm after. I have a pretty good sense of focus to going after something and actually try to accomplish it. 'Can't' isn't a word that I use. 'Quit' is not a word that I use. I feel like if you want something bad enough, then you work towards it."
Besides, the Celtics were long ago written off, even before the regular season ended. They didn't get the message then, and they're still not listening now.
"To be honest, I really don't even hear that stuff. I don't hear what people are saying," Pierce said. "Obviously we're an underdog because of our record with all the series and the way we've been playing. But as far as all that, hearing how we played and how we performed, I really don't even get caught up in that."
The Celtics were considered too old to manufacture any sort of prolonged playoff run after a 27-27 finish to the regular season. It didn't seem they'd be sticking around much longer after LeBron James and the Cavaliers rolled to a 124-95 victory on May 7, a domination that had the fans in Boston booing the home team as it walked off the court at halftime.
"I guarantee you after the Cleveland game we were the only 15 that thought Game 4 would be different," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Boston responded with three straight victories to oust the league-best Cavaliers, and didn't lose again until after it had built a 3-0 lead over No. 2 seed Orlando.
Still, a comeback against Cleveland wasn't entirely shocking, because the Celtics had outplayed the Cavaliers for most of the first two games in earning a split. Boston was outplayed in just about all facets Thursday night by Los Angeles.
"It's true, we had some proof against Cleveland. We have none," Rivers said. "I'm not in the business of trying to prove to the masses. I've just got to prove to 15, and that's the guys in the locker room. As long as they believe, it doesn't really matter what anyone else believes."
There was so much to question after Game 1. Garnett was criticized as perhaps never before after being badly outplayed by Pau Gasol. Rivers said Rajon Rondo, the catalyst behind Boston's postseason run, is dealing with some tight lower back muscles.
Even Rivers admitted that "we have not proven that we can stop them yet."
Then again, they also lost at home to New Jersey and Washington this season, and after every embarrassing loss there was one more reason to count out the Celtics.
Yet they keep rising again.
And maybe, another banner will rise at the start of next season.
"You know, you learn a lot about yourself when you lose," Garnett said. "You learn a lot about yourself when you're down, the people around you and so forth, and this shows what you're made of, to be honest."