NBA Playoff Recap - East First Round, Game 3
(4) Boston 100, (5) Miami 98 - Celtics lead series, 3-0
True, it's only the Miami Heat. Yet, the Boston Celtics have to be thrilled about having a three-game lead in their first-round postseason series.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers failed to grab a 3-0 lead in the opening act of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, coach Doc Rivers and his roster have managed to stay on track for a sweep. This is news to NBA fans, and perhaps it's just the tonic which will give Boston a fighting chance as the playoffs continue. For a team that had struggled so markedly as the regular season wound down, it's incredibly surprising to come to grips with the fact that the Celtics are the only team in the first round to have a chance at a sweep (although Orlando and Atlanta could put themselves in position to do the same thing with Saturday wins in their own playoff series).
Just how did Boston gain a stranglehold of this series on Friday night at American Airlines Arena in Miami? Plainly put, Paul Pierce got back to the urgent business of hitting dagger-like jumpers, just as he did during the franchise's 2008 championship run.
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With 1:42 left, Pierce got warmed up and prepared for his role as Boston's closer by snapping a 95-all tie with an ice-veins three which gave the Celtics a 98-95 lead. Miami's Dorell Wright responded with an equally ballsy triple to re-tie the score at 98, but after both teams traded a pair of misses - with Miami superstar Dwyane Wade missing a shot with 14 seconds left and then injuring his calf after he landed awkwardly - Pierce demanded the ball.
He wouldn't be denied.
On the Celtics' - and the game's - final possession, Pierce allowed the clock to run down before taking a long two at a place between the right wing and the top of the key. Pierce released the shot with roughly one second left, and the horn sounded before it got to the basket. When the rock did arrive, though, it ripped through the twine. The Celtics celebrated near midcourt, all too aware of the fact that they might be able to wrap up this series quickly and gain rest for their aging bodies. If Chicago can extend Cleveland to at least six games, Boston will have a rest advantage in the second round, an unexpected development that could give the Celtics a more level playing field against the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Pierce's "splashdown" represented the final dousing of the Heat, who are almost certain to lose this series and then get blown up in what figures to be a very busy offseason for the Miami franchise, which has loads of salary cap room to play with. Wade - who scored 34 points in this game on 14-of-26 shooting - did what he could to get the Heat into the winner's column, but with the rest of Miami's starting five underachieving to a considerable extent (with the partial exception of an eight-point fourth quarter by forward Michael Beasley), coach Erik Spoelstra just didn't have enough weapons against the C's.
Game 4 is Sunday, and to the surprise of everyone in the NBA, the Celtics could end the series if they can pull out one more victory in South Florida.
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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