Stephen A: C's are Heat's biggest hurdle

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went on a more-than-6-minute-rant on the Celtics-Heat rivalry that kicked off when he was asked which team was the biggest challenger to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference:

“It’s clearly the Boston Celtics,” Smith said. “There’s no other team in the East worth even considering as a challenge to the Miami Heat. I respect the Indiana Pacers. ... Clearly the Philadelphia 76ers have gotten significantly better. … You can’t ignore Brooklyn. … And certainly with the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony is a big time closer.

“With all of that being said, none of them compare to the Boston Celtics and here’s why: Paul Pierce’s knee wasn’t 100 percent, he was gimpy, Ray Allen’s ankles had been bothering him all season long, Avery Bradley was out with a shoulder injury, Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green -- remember Jeff Green he used to be in Oklahoma City, he can play -- and Wilcox is a legitimate power forward in this game.

“Those are five guys that I just gave you that are pivotal, pivotal elements on a team. Three of them were out, and the other two -- Ray Allen and Paul Pierce -- were hobbled. And the Boston Celtics still took the Miami Heat to Game 7 within 48 minutes of an NBA Finals berth.”

Smith likes what the Celtics added in the offseason:

“If you can’t have Ray Allen, but you need 3-point shooting, who do you go get? Jason Terry. They got him from Dallas. Courtney Lee comes from Houston, he can score too. Avery Bradley is coming back from his shoulder injury. ... You got KG, they were significantly better when they put him at the 5. Then you also draft Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger. …

“Not only do you have that. Both Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green are back to go with a Courtney Lee, to go with a Jason Terry, and still be paired with KG, Paul Pierce and Rajpon Rondo? That’s big time.”

Smith went on about the significance of Allen not only leaving the Celtics for less money, but leaving them for less money to go to their chief rivals.

“All of those things considered, Boston wants Miami so bad, I don’t believe that Boston would even be as remotely satisfied with winning a world championship if it doesn’t go through Miami. That’s how badly they want the Miami heat. They can’t stand these boys and Miami knows it. ...

“It’s the hatred. Keep your eyes on that. I still pick Miami, but it’s not going to be easy. Boston will be waiting.”