Paul Pierce demanded the ball for the last shot. The Boston Celtics were rewarded.
And the much-anticipated offseason of 2010 is closer than the Miami Heat ever wanted.
Pierce’s 21-foot jumper at the buzzer – with injured Heat star Dwyane Wade watching helplessly from the bench in the final minutes – gave the Celtics a 100-98 win over Miami in Game 3 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Friday night.
Boston leads the best-of-seven 3-0, and will go for the sweep Sunday in Miami.
“That’s a shot I hit a number of times in playoffs and regular season,” Pierce said after getting mobbed by teammates in an on-court melee. “I told the coaches, ‘Give me the ball on the right side.’ I got to my sweet spot, made sure there wasn’t any time left and drained it.”
Easy as that. The Celtics loaded the court with shooters and ran a bunch of cuts, all of which were merely theater.
The moment would belong to Pierce.
“It was just Paul,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He wanted it. All the movement that you saw, it was just false movement.”
No team has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit in a series, and Miami might have even bigger problems than that. Wade hurt his left calf after missing a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, with replays showing he landed on Celtics guard Ray Allen’s foot. Wade – who changed jerseys during the game because he was sweating so much – crumpled to the court and was carried off by reserve center Jamaal Magloire and trainer Jay Sabol, then chugged a cup of Gatorade in case the game went to overtime.
It didn’t – Pierce saw to that.
Pierce finished with 32 points, while Allen added 25 for the Celtics, who got 17 from Rajon Rondo and 16 from Kevin Garnett.
Boston has won 14 of the last 15 games against Miami, including all six this season.
Wade finished with 34 points, eight assists and five rebounds for the Heat, which rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead.
At Spurs 94, Mavericks 90: Bloody nose and all, Manu Ginobili wasn’t letting Dallas get ahead in this playoff series.
Playing with a bandage across his nose after getting popped by Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow, Ginobili returned to the game and helped San Antonio hold on in a wild fourth quarter for a for the win Friday.
Ginobili scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter with a possibly broken nose.
That detail wasn’t going to be known until after the game. What is certain is that the Spurs took a 2-1 lead by surviving the NBA’s best road team, and Nowitzki torching the Spurs for 35 points after a shaky Game 2.
Game 4 is Sunday in San Antonio.
Sunday is also when Duncan turns 34 – but so far in this series, he’s looked practically ageless. He scored 25 points for the second straight game, and has the Spurs in position to possibly celebrate a commanding lead in this series if they can win on his birthday.
The Mavs will spend between now and then trying to figure out how to even this series. A start might be figuring out what happened to Nowitzki’s supporting cast.
Jason Terry scored 17 points and J.J. Barea had 14, but Caron Butler never left the bench in the second half and finished with two points.
Nowitzki made good on his vow to make the baskets he missed in Game 2. He shot 13 of 23 from the field and jump-started a 17-0 run in the third quarter that got the Mavs back into the game — and a lead for just the second time since Game 1.
The run came when Ginobili was out. Blood dripped from his nose after taking an inadvertent elbow from Nowitzki, who had jumped to take a shot. Ginobili left for the locker room and returned 5 minutes later.
When he did come back, the Spurs said it was “up to his ability to tolerate the pain.”
He managed just fine.
Tony Parker had 23 points off the bench while continuing to thrive in the sixth man role that Ginobili held for so many years. He hit a 20-footer to give the Spurs the lead for good with 2:34 left, then made another from the corner the next time down to push the lead to three.
That was as close as Dallas would get.
The Mavs must now lean on their NBA-best road record during the regular season to try and get a split before the series returns to Dallas for Game 5.