MIAMI - An exhausted Dwayne Wade dropped 34 points with a cramping calf, but Paul Pierce broke the Heat's back.
With the game tied, Pierce dribbled out the clock to leave no time remaining and went to his "sweet spot", the 18-foot stepback jumper from the right elbow that he's been shooting for years and gave the Celtics a 3-0 series.
Pierce dropped 32 points in the 100-98 victory in Game 3 in Miami, and kept the Celtics alive with some big hoops in the fourth quarter when the Heat were closing in and threatening to steal back Game 3. After a quick TV interview, Pierce walked off the court with his arms held high, saluting team ownership and a group of Celtics fans behind the team's bench after creating another classic victory for a franchise blessed with more than it's fair share.
Over the last 10 years, Pierce has had a hand in most of them.
"He's a star, and the reason I'm saying that is that he never loses his confidence," Rivers said of Pierce, who at one point committed turnovers on three straight possessions but continued to attack the Miami defense on the very next play. Pierce also asked Rivers to call the last play for him, and he delivered when found himself one-on-one against Dorell Wright near the top of the key, while Ray Allen was busy running around as a decoy.
"All the movement that you saw was just false movement," Rivers said. "It was all for Paul."
And even though the Heat sort-of knew it was coming -- Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game that the C's have "so many options with proven 25-point a game scorers" at the end of games -- when Pierce started dribbling the clock out, the choice was clear.
"He's a big-time player," Wright said. "I definitely knew he was gonna take the last shot. I tried to play the best D I can. He just made a good shot, a tough shot."
That shot ended the game, and in all likelihood, the series as well. Pierce said he knows how the Heat must feel, having been on the business end of a 3-0 series edge a few times himself.
"It's very demoralizing when you go down 3-0," Pierce said.
As for the "sweet spot", Pierce used to go to the left elbow earlier in his career, but after a bone bruise in his knee one season, he found it hard to go to the left the way he normally would and started going to the right elbow instead. Pierce said the shot started to fall and he grew comfortable with it, and it's become his signature shot. He also noted that a similar injury prevented him from using the move during much of the Celtics' championship season.
Pierce beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of the first round last spring at the Garden with basically the same shot.
At the beginning of the night, Dwyane Wade was looking like he'd be the story of Game 3, as he dropped 15 points in the first quarter and looked primed to drop 60. Still, Miami only had a 29-27 lead after the first, and the C's froze him out in the second quarter, holding him scoreless for the period as they trailed the Heat 48-49 at the half.
At the end of the half, Wade was shown doubled over with his hands on his hips, gasping for air under the basket after working his way around Tony Allen on the perimeter on his way to the hoop for a layup attempt. It looked like Wade was Miami's only hope, but even with the Heat's bench dropping 39 points, at the end of the day the burden falls on their lone superstar to get it done. Wade just didn't have the energy on Friday night.
The teams meet again on Sunday afternoon when Pierce and the C's will have a chance to sweep the Heat and earn some rest before a second-round matchup with the winner of the Chicago/Cleveland series.