MIAMI — Coach Doc Rivers had very specific instructions for the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. Go golfing. Avoid hanging out with each other. Most importantly, try to stay away from the game of basketball.
Think of it as a Doc’s prescription for mental health.
Physical health may be of greater concern for the Celtics, who are limping into big trouble against the Miami Heat. And if there’s an upside to being down 2-0 to the Heat in these Eastern Conference semifinals, it’s that the schedule allows Boston some time to heal.
Game 3 isn’t until Saturday in Boston.
“We’ll be ready,” Rivers said. “I can tell you that. Guarantee you that. In this case, the rest is good. It’s very good for us, because we are a little banged-up.”
Or a lot banged-up, more specifically.
Paul Pierce (foot), Rajon Rondo (back) and Ray Allen (chest) are dealing with various maladies for Boston, and the Celtics are still without center Shaquille O’Neal, who has played in one game — briefly at that — since Feb. 1 because of calf problems.
“Rest is always good, but I don’t think we really want four days off,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “I think it probably helps Boston more than it helps us, for them guys to really get a lot of rest. We’ll have one day off and then (get) back at it again. We’re going to take it. We’re going to learn from the things we did well and also the things we didn’t do so well.”
At this rate, there isn’t much to complain about from the Heat perspective.
Miami used a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to fuel a 101-92 victory in Game 2 on Tuesday night behind 35 points from LeBron James and 28 more from Wade. So far in the series, they’ve combined to score 123 points — nine more than the collective total from Ray Allen, Pierce, Rondo and Kevin Garnett.
The Celtics are getting beat up and banged up at about the same rate.
Pierce began noticeably limping midway through the first quarter of Game 2. Rondo did not warm up at halftime, keeping a heating pad on his aching back instead until play resumed, then needed some fourth-quarter stretching on the Celtics’ sideline.
And when Rondo and Allen tried challenging James in the open floor, they paid big prices.
James spun around Rondo for a two-handed dunk — Rondo was knocked into a backward somersault on the play. And minutes later, James and Allen collided on another Heat breakout. James caught a forearm from Allen in the face and was briefly shaken up, but got the worst of it, having to leave the game briefly with a bruised chest.
“Something you deal with,” Allen shrugged.
Say this much for the Celtics: They may be bruised, but far from beaten.
O’Neal insists that he will play in Game 3, and in a crestfallen Boston postgame locker room, both Garnett and Glen Davis used the same phrase to emphasize the importance of the next game.
“Do or die,” they said in separate interviews.
If the Heat had their way, Game 3 probably would have been played already. A franchise that couldn’t beat the Celtics for the better part of the last four years — Miami dropped 18 of 20 games to Boston — has now won three straight in the series, including the April 10 regular-season matchup.
Find a way to win two more, and the Heat are heading to the Eastern Conference finals.
“We did what we wanted to do, protect home-court,” James said. “Now the series starts in a very, very hostile environment on Saturday. Looking forward to the challenge.”
Like Rivers, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra gave his team Wednesday off. Rest is good, Spoelstra said, and he doesn’t expect the Heat to lose their edge over the layoff.
“The series doesn’t start until somebody wins on an opposing teams’ court,” Spoelstra said. “So we understand what the challenge will be going up there.”
For Miami forward Chris Bosh, the rest might be worthwhile.
He took a pointed, lighthearted jab at himself Tuesday night, saying that he doesn’t know what to do with off days in the second round because he’s never reached this point in the NBA playoffs before.
“I like to call it ‘breaking a mental sweat,'” Bosh said. “I’ll just watch film, watch a lot of film and kind of go through it in your mind and see the mistakes that we made. It’s always easy to look at the pleasant things. We need to take this game and really dissect it and look at what we could have done better.”
Tim Reynolds can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds