It is, as they say, a series now. The Boston Celtics – the aging, slow, can’t-keep-up Boston Celtics – are catching up with the younger, faster, dynamic Miami Heat. Ran right past them Friday night, 101-91, giving LeBron James and Co. pause that they will have to earn their second straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Expect the same desperate effort from the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, an effort that helped them bolt out to a 24-point lead behind a strong defense that minimized the impact of Dwyane Wade and a balanced offense.
“They got us,” Miami coach Eric Spoelstra said, simply.
The Celtics, trailing the series 2-1 now, played like a team competing for its life, and it was. Paul Pierce had 23 points, four rebounds and four assists. Kevin Garnett scored 24 and Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 10 assists.
“We needed to win the game,” Rondo said. “I just wanted to sacrifice and do the things for my teammates to get the lead, keep the lead and just run the show, My job is to be the leader out there on the floor, the extension of Doc. (Rivers, the coach). I wanted to call a great game, keep my turnovers down and keep guys happy.”
They will be happier if they can get similar performance Sunday to even the series at 2-2. Meanwhile, the Heat will need more from everyone other than James, who had 34 points in another stellar performance. But Wade had just 18 points and the rest of the crew was even more anemic.
The Celtics defense near the end of the first quarter was outstanding, trapping the Heat and denying Wade a chance to establish a rhythm. Miami 6:55 without scoring a basket and Boston ran off 15 unanswered points to assume command of the game.
It is a formula the Celtic hope to repeat on Sunday.