It may sound too cliché, too corny in today's basketball world, but it never has been more appropriate than now -- with the Celtics one victory away from another NBA championship.
They don't have the best players in basketball anymore -- not a single one on any of the three All-NBA teams of 2010 -- but they keep beating them one at a time.
The Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals Sunday night by beating the Los Angeles Lakers, 92-86, withstanding another great performance by Kobe Bryant, who now looks headed for the same fate as Dwyane Wade (Miami), LeBron James (Cleveland) and Dwight Howard (Orlando) suffered in previous playoff rounds.
They, too, fell to the team-tested Celtics.
"You can have a superstar player, an individual player who makes great plays all night, but if you got a team full of guys playing together like we do, the results speak for themselves,'' said Boston center Kendrick Perkins. "That poster, we take it to heart. We'll take it to LA.''
It's only appropriate now that the Celtics must win the title in Los Angeles, in either Game 6 or 7, capping this improbable playoff run. They are trying to become the first team since the "Heart of a Champion'' Houston Rockets in 1995 to win a title without home-court advantage in the final three rounds.
"We've played the best all year on the road,'' said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It's going to be a helluva challenge to win one more out there, but we'll be ready. Our guys have stood together.''
Bryant was the best player again in Game 5, scoring 38 points -- including 19 in the third quarter -- but the Celtics hardly flinched, shutting off everyone else with a smothering team defense that carried them throughout the game and has carried them throughout these playoffs. The Celtics never trailed in the second half -- even when Bryant put on his fireworks display.
Boston was led by Paul Pierce, who had 27 points. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Ray Allen had 12. All three will be in the Hall of Fame someday, but each is past his prime, no longer able to dominate on his own.
Yet together, and with growing help from a budding support group, they are on the verge of winning their second title in three years. Not bad for an over-the-hill gang.
There is nothing pretty about them anymore. They have morphed into a scrappy, down-and-dirty defensive team, holding the Lakers Sunday to their lowest scoring output of the 2010 playoffs.
Point guard Rajon Rondo got a technical foul for shoving Ron Artest in defense of Garnett. Allen was part of a double technical foul when he tangled with Lakers point guard Derek Fisher. They tangled again to get offsetting personal fouls. Both Perkins and Rasheed Wallace surely would have gotten into the mix, but they already had accumulated six technical fouls in these playoffs, one shy of an automatic suspension.
"It's those little battles that go on in the game sometimes that seem like they're necessary,'' said Allen. "You can never really back down. You have to keep pushing forward. To achieve the moment that we want now, we need everybody -- everybody -- to do the things they do.''
Allen was outstanding defensively in the first half, keeping his hand in the face of Bryant, who hit only 4 of 12 shots for 10 points before intermission. But that changed in the third quarter, and there was nothing anyone could do individually. It was collectively that they made their stand.
Bryant opened the second half by scoring 19 points in nine minutes, which was 23 consecutive points for the Lakers going back to the second quarter. The Celtics, though, kept plugging away like they always do, keeping their focus until Bryant cooled because there were so many hands in his face.
"I love that our guys, for the most part, they held it in. They understood what [Bryant] was doing, but we defended everyone else, and that was big,'' Rivers said. "There is no better shot maker than Kobe Bryant. You've got to live with it and play through it.''
Pierce had his best game in the Finals Sunday. Although he's no Kobe Bryant, he took his turn hitting the big shots. It was Allen who won Game 2 for the Celtics with 32 points. It was reserves Glen Davis and Nate Robinson who became stars in the Game 4 win. And this time it was Pierce, who hit 12 of his 21 shots. He scored 11 of his in the third period, losing his little duel with Bryant.
"I really didn't even notice we were going, I guess, back and forth,'' Pierce said. "I'm out there trying to help my club win. I'm not in any one-on-one deal with Kobe at all.''
It was Pierce who said a week ago, after winning Game 2 in Los Angeles, that the Celtics would not be coming back, expecting to win all three games in Boston. They did win two of three, which should be good enough.
Of the previous 25 times that the NBA Finals were tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 won the series 19 times. Pierce, like everyone else in Boston, likes those odds.
"This was the biggest game of the year, but every game gets bigger now,'' Pierce said. "We've been a great road team all year. Two games in LA, and we just have to get one. It would be amazing if we get it done.''