NBA: Pierce hits at the buzzer, Celtics win 100-98
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI — There was no diagramming of a special play in the final Boston huddle, no brilliant piece of strategy.
Paul Pierce demanded the ball.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers agreed.
And with Dwyane Wade watching helplessly from the bench, cramps rendering him unable to put any weight on his left leg, Pierce put Boston one win from a first-round sweep of the Heat.
Pierce dribbled the clock down to 2 seconds, got to his favorite spot just off the right side of the key and nailed a 21-footer at the buzzer Friday night, giving the Celtics a 100-98 victory in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference first-round series.
Boston could advance to the second round by beating Miami on Sunday.
"It's still a series," Pierce insisted.
Might not be for long.
No team has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit in a series, and Miami might have even bigger problems.
Wade hurt his left calf after missing a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, 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 so he could play if the game went to overtime.
It didn't. Pierce saw to that, his final shot capping a 32-point effort.
"Get out of the way and get Paul the ball," Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said. "Pretty simple. He made the play."
Boston has made all the plays against Miami this season, winning all six meetings and 14 of the last 15. And when Miami didn't elect to use its foul to give in the last 2 minutes, all Pierce had to do was connect.
For the last play, the Celtics loaded the floor with shooters and ran a bunch of cuts, all of which were merely theater.
The moment would belong to Pierce.
"It was just Paul," Rivers said. "He wanted it. All the movement that you saw, it was just false movement."
Allen added 25 points for the Celtics, who got 17 from Rondo and 16 from Kevin Garnett.
"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."
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, yet saw the game — and more than likely, the season, slip away.
"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.
"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."
Boston led 85-76 early in the fourth, seeming to be in full control of the game, and with it the series.
On the ropes, the Celtics poised to land the knockout blow, the Heat found a way to counter.
Beasley scored six of the next eight Miami points to spark the rally, and when Wright hit two foul shots with 3:46 left after Pierce shoved him in the back jostling for a rebound, the Heat were up 92-91.
Then the fight really began.
After two ties, Allen swished a 3-pointer off a quick catch-and-shoot with 2:31 left, putting Boston back up 95-94. Pierce made a 3-pointer — he missed a jumper, but Rondo swooped in, got the rebound and kicked the ball back out — to give Boston a three-point lead, only to have Wright answer 13 seconds later with a 3 from near the Celtics' bench.
With that, Wade clenched both fists.
He just couldn't land the big shot when he needed it most.
"It is, obviously, a very tough loss," Spoelstra said.
Emotions ran high, for certain.
The Heat led 29-24 late in the opening quarter when Wade found Wright for a spectacular, reverse, alley-oop slam that sent the crowd and most of the Miami bench to their feet in simultaneous celebration.
And somehow, it seemed like Boston was the team inspired by the scene.
The Celtics immediately went on a 15-2 run over the next 5 minutes, as the Heat managed to go 1 of 6 from the field in that stretch with five turnovers — which Boston turned into eight points. It all meant the Celtics led 39-31 midway through the second quarter, surely prompting a sense of "Here we go again" from the Heat faithful.
The third quarter was mostly back and forth, until the final moments.
That's when Boston took control with an 11-2 spurt. Pierce hit a 25-footer with 1.7 seconds left in the period and the Celtics matched their largest lead, 80-72 entering the fourth.
By the end, that shot was forgotten. Pierce's last was just another chapter in his ever-growing book of Celtics lore.
"He lives for games like this," Celtics center Kendrick Perkins said.
NOTES: Miami's Jermaine O'Neal was 1 of 7, making him 5 of 31 in the series. ... NBA commissioner David Stern was in attendance, part of his postseason tour around the league. ... Celebrities at the game included tennis star Serena Williams, Louisville coach Rick Pitino and NBA veteran James Posey — who won championships with the Heat in 2006 and Celtics in 2008. NFL rushing champion Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans said on Twitter he had tickets so close to the court the "ball rolling by my feet."