WALTHAM, Mass. — Paul Pierce has figured out how to help the Boston Celtics play better during the final minutes of their next playoff game against the Miami Heat.
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 LeBron James, and Rajon Rondo, who has a stiff back. Pierce said his Achilles’ is fine, and coach Doc Rivers said he expects to have Shaquille O’Neal 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 New York Knicks 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 Dwayne 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 Los Angeles Lakers 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 Kevin Garnett 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.