Celtics Hoping to Hold Serve at Home

He’s going to stick around.

Pierce was ejected from the series opener with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and in Game 2 he strained his left Achilles’ tendon in the first half and was still hobbling down the stretch. He knows that Boston’s chances of avoiding a 3-0 hole depend on his ability to stick around at the end, and he plans to be there.

“Paul Pierce being in the game in the fourth quarter, healthy, is always going to help the Celtics,” he said before practice on Friday.

The Heat took the first two games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals in Miami, and the series resumes with Game 3 on Saturday night in Boston. For these Celtics, who have never fallen behind 0-2 since the New Big Three was assembled in the summer of 2007, it’s a crucial game to avoid what could be an insurmountable hole.

“We still feel like it’s going to be a seven-game series,” Pierce said. “I like our chances, especially with our backs against the wall.”

The Celtics have reason to be optimistic that they can at least make a series of it. They are back at home, where this core is 29-7 in the playoffs, and they expect to be healthier than they have been in a while, thanks in part to the three days off since their Game 2 loss.

That will help Ray Allen, who has a bruised chest from being elbowed by , and Rajon Rondo, who has a stiff back. Pierce said his Achilles’ is fine, and coach said he expects to have coming off the bench for the first time in the postseason.

O’Neal has played just 5 minutes, 29 seconds since Feb. 1 because of a leg injury.

“Other than that, we don’t know what he can give us on the floor,” Rivers said, adding that O’Neal would not be limited in practice. “There’s no way we can get him at 100 percent. That ship has sailed. That would be a miracle. But we can get him to a point where he can help us.”

O’Neal came to Boston for just this time of year, but he missed the sweep of the in the first round and the first two games against Miami because of a calf injury in his right leg. The Celtics originally called it a “minor” injury, and he has been day-to-day from month-to-month, but he hasn’t gotten back on the court.

“We don’t know what to expect,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Shaq is a champion. He’s a guy who has won four rings. He’s had a lot of big playoff moments. Having him back is going to be a boost in energy to the crowd and to the team. But it’s our job to go in and continue executing our game plan and not really worry about who’s coming back, who’s in the lineup and who isn’t.”

The defending Eastern Conference champions, Boston won it all in 2008 and took the to seven games in the NBA finals last year. The Celtics cruised through the Knicks in the first round for their date with Heat — a matchup that had been anticipated ever since James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami to form the league’s newest superteam.

But to get past them, Boston will have to do something its has never had to do before: Rally from two games down in the playoffs.

“The whole thing’s a challenge,” forward said. “Our mentality is an all-in mentality for tomorrow’s game. … This is it. We’ve used all our lifelines. I hate to say it like that, but it’s true. This is not a cool, kind of, ‘Keep your composure.’ No, this is ‘We’ve got to get the next game.’ It’s all-in. This is it, I’ve got two pocket kings and I’m all in.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra would expect nothing less.

“They’re a poised, experienced team that’s been through it all,” he said. “And they’ve been through this before, where everybody’s throwing dirt on them, saying that whatever it may be, that it’s near the end of the line, that their guys have too many miles on those wheels.

“We don’t believe any of that,” Spoelstra said. “Every time you count them out, they come back with a championship response. That’s who they’ve been. That’s what they deserve. They deserve that type of respect.”


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story from Miami.

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Celtics Wait to Learn Next Opponent

In the playoffs, the Big Thirtysomethings of , Paul Pierce and Ray Allen took care of it for themselves — and 39-year-old , too.

The got another day off on Tuesday, two days after beating the 101-89 to complete their first-round sweep. Boston is waiting to learn its second-round playoff opponent; the most likely opponent is the , who hold a 3-1 series lead over the heading into Wednesday night’s Game 5.

“We haven’t swept a team in a long time,” point guard Rajon Rondo said. “It is a good feeling to get some rest.”

The Celtics have reached the NBA finals twice in the three years since the new Big Three was assembled, winning it all in 2008. But they hadn’t swept a team since beating the in three straight in the first round of the 1992 playoffs — the last postseason series win in ‘s career before he retired.

In ’08, Boston managed to win an unprecedented 17th championship after going the distance in each of the first two rounds, needing 26 playoff games before finishing off the in six games. Last year’s return to the finals took 24 games, and the extended season has been taking its toll.

Rivers thought that rest was so important this season that he conceded the No. 2 seed in the East to the Heat to rest his stars in the final week rather than burn them out in a (likely futile) attempt to catch Miami.

“I think we do need it, so we’re going to take it,” he said before sitting his starters for the last two regular season games.

Boston has one of the oldest starting lineups in the NBA, with three starters in their 30s — four if O’Neal can make it back from a right leg injury that has limited him to just 5 minutes, 29 seconds since Feb. 1. Allen is 35, Garnett turns 35 next month and Pierce is 33; they have played more than 120,000 career minutes between them.

But Pierce played fewer minutes this year than in any full season in his career. Garnett was near his career-low in minutes per game. But no one could use the extra time more than O’Neal.

The former MVP and future Hall of Famer played in a career-low 39 games and 751 minutes this season, but mostly because of injury. He has not played since making a cameo on April 3 to return from an Achilles tendon injury. He then injured the same leg after just 5½ minutes.

O’Neal is still listed as day-to-day, the team said Tuesday.

, 32, whose presence will be key if Shaq can’t play, also played his fewest minutes since becoming a full-time NBA starter in 2000.

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Celtics Stop Williams, Crush Jazz 110-86

BOSTON (AP) — scored 21 points, Paul Pierce added 20 and Rajon Rondo had 12 assists on Friday night to lead the to their fifth straight win, a 110-86 victory over the .

Deron Williams had a season-low five points for the Jazz, who have lost three in a row. Earl Watson scored 12 for Utah, while Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Andrei Kirilenko had 11 apiece.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis scored 15 and Semih Erden had a career-high 14 points for Boston, which scored the last 11 points of the first half and never led by fewer than 17 in the second.

Williams made just one basket — his fewest in almost 12 months — to end a string of 48 straight regular-season games of double-digit scoring.

He took just four shots and played a season-low 23 minutes, picking up his second foul with 8 minutes left in the first quarter and his third with seven minutes left in the half. Utah’s leading scorer with 22.1 points per game, he didn’t score at all until 8:28 remained in the third quarter.

The three-game losing streak, following losses at Washington and New Jersey, is the longest of the season for the Jazz. The losses to the and Nets, two of the worst teams in the NBA, were relatively close; Friday’s game against the Celtics never really was.

Boston scored seven of the first nine points and led by 16 later in the first quarter. After allowing Utah to score nine straight points to close the gap to seven, the Celtics scored the last 11 of the half and took a 59-41 lead.

Pierce, Garnett, Ray Allen and Davis were already in double figures at halftime, when Rondo had 10 assists; Boston shot 59 percent in the first half to Utah’s 38 percent.

Utah briefly got within 17 points in the third quarter and 19 in the fourth.

The biggest problem for Boston was the loss of in the first quarter to a leg injury. O’Neal went into the courtside seats after a loose ball — he didn’t get it, but he gave a fan a hug — and played just six minutes total, scoring one basket.

The 38-year-old former NBA MVP missed a week in November and another in December with leg injuries. The Celtics are already short on big men, with Kendrick Perkins not yet ready to come back from the torn ligaments from the NBA finals, and out another month with his injured left knee.

NOTES: Allen converted a four-point play when he hit a 3-pointer while drawing a foul from Raja Bell with 7:05 left in the second. … Al Jefferson, who had seven points and five rebounds, played three seasons with the Celtics after they drafted him 15th overall in 2004, then traded him to Minnesota in the deal that brought Garnett to Boston. … The Celtics scored half of their 26 points in the third quarter from the foul line, going 13 for 14. … Williams’ season-low had been the 10 points he scored against New Orleans on Dec. 17.

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