MIAMI (AP)—The first order of business after Game 3 for Doc Rivers was making a plea to his Boston Celtics, begging them to not fixate on finishing off a first-round sweep.
Good luck, Doc.
These Celtics have everything going their way against the Miami Heat—and a big chunk of rest before the second round starts might be Boston’s just reward.
Paul Pierce’s(notes) 21-footer at the buzzer Friday night gave Boston a 100-98 win over Miami in Game 3 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series. The Celtics lead 3-0, and will try for a sweep in Miami on Sunday afternoon.
“We’re going to be a team that’s tough to beat four times,” Pierce said. “But it’s very demoralizing, I think, for the other team when you go down 3-0.”
There’s an understatement.
No team in NBA history has rallied from a 0-3 deficit in a series, and the hole the Heat are in looks even deeper than that. Miami is 0-6 against Boston this season and 1-14 since April 2007.
But as far as looking ahead to the second round, Rivers is understandably leery.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep playing. I told our guys, I don’t want to hear about that. I told them right after the game, we’ve got to focus on basketball. All the other stuff, you focus on the process and the results will happen. Whatever happens out there, it happens. We’ve got to get our job done.”
Pierce got it done Friday.
Game tied at 98, less than 20 seconds left, the Heat had exactly what it wanted—the ball in Dwyane Wade’s(notes) hands. The 2006 NBA finals MVP tried a straightaway 3-pointer and missed with 14 seconds left, which is where the game and perhaps the season slipped away from Miami.
Wade crumpled to the court in a heap, his left calf cramping for the second time in the final quarter. He had to be carried back to the Miami bench by Heat reserve center Jamaal Magloire(notes) and trainer Jay Sabol, and the Heat huddled together to figure out what to do.
There was no such conversation 60 feet away in the Boston huddle.
“Great player made a great shot,” Wade said. “I couldn’t really see it too much. But I did see the ball go in the basket.”
Wade finished with 34 points, eight assists and five rebounds for the Heat, who rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead. Michael Beasley(notes) scored 16 points, Wright scored 15 and Udonis Haslem(notes) and Mario Chalmers(notes) each scored 10 for the Heat.
“We’ve just got to go out there Sunday and give them another fight,” Wright said. “That was definitely a backbreaker, right there.”
That long-awaited offseason of 2010, when the Heat are expected to revamp their roster, is closer than Miami ever expected.
“It hasn’t really set in yet,” Wade said. “Down 3-0 hurts. This team’s good. They’ve got a lot of veteran guys who step up to the billing.”
Especially on the road, which is where Boston has excelled all season.
The Celtics were the only playoff team this year to win more games on the road than at home, and they’ve had a flair for drama in Miami. Back on Jan. 6, Rondo caught a lob from Pierce and laid in a buzzer-beater to force overtime, and the Celtics went on to a 112-106 win.
That one hurt Miami plenty. This one was considerably worse.
“We certainly fought the fight in terms of bringing the appropriate level of intensity to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That was there. Couldn’t ask for much more in terms of effort plays and just bringing the fight.”
Pierce said after the game that the value of rest, especially for a veteran team like Boston, cannot be understated.
Still, Rivers’ words resonated with some Celtics after the game. They know Sunday probably won’t be a cakewalk.
“The job is never really done until we close it out,” Allen said. “You can’t worry about their mental state. … As a team we need to worry about what we’re doing here in the locker room.”
That being said, Boston’s confidence probably hasn’t been higher all season, and a team two years removed from a championship is starting to get that playoff feeling again.