Even after a disappointing, and in some cases disillusioning, regular season, the Boston Celtics were still expected to defeat the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA playoffs. It just, most likely anyway, wasn't going to be very pretty. Probably because of the Celtics' woes at home all season, combined with their recent history of first round series going the seven-game distance, this particular matchup was realistically slated to span at least six games, with seven games not entirely outside the realm of possibility.
But now, with the Celtics miraculously ahead in the series three games to none, a seven-game series seems downright nightmarish. Who could have confidently predicted the Celtics would be in a position to sweep a Dwyane Wade-led Heat club? Five games would have been ideal. But a sweep? Come on, that's crazy talk.
Alas, with Game 4 mere hours away, we are indeed talking crazy, because, at this point, a sweep is not only possible, but expected. The Celtics have a new goal: Sweep the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, in order to gain some crucial rest before the second round and an in-all-likelihood matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Anything else, given the position the Celtics currently find themselves in, would be disappointing, to a degree. We don't want to see what would be constituted as an unnecessary fifth game, or sixth game, or (gulp) seventh game. Why drag this thing out, when the C's have proven they can handle pretty much anything the Heat are capable of throwing at them? They've won coming from behind, they've been victorious in blowout fashion, and they've kept their cool and emerged on top in the closest of contests. What's left? Do they have to squander a lead and eventually regain it for old time's sake?
The Heat might have on their side the best player on the floor, at times, in Dwyane Wade, but the Celtics clearly have the superior team. They simply have too many weapons for the Heat to effectively deal with. When it's not Paul Pierce, it's Ray Allen; when it's not Ray Allen, it's Rajon Rondo; when it's not Rajon Rondo, it's Kevin Garnett; when it's not Kevin Garnett, it's Glen Davis; and when it's not Glen Davis, it's Tony Allen.
Through the first two games it was the regularly scheduled Dwyane Wade show, with the All-Star pouring in the points with next to no help from his fellow starters or his bench brigade. Jermaine O'Neal continued to rob the Heat of over $23 million, while Carlos Arroyo couldn't guard Rajon Rondo's shadow. Michael Beasley seemed more interested in his haircut than the actual game being played, while the bench could only muster 39 total points.
But then, Game 3 brought a special announcement. The Dwyane Wade show was still playing in the background, but coming to the forefront of the screen were the Miami reserves. Sure, O'Neal and Arroyo were still no-shows, but they failed to set a legitimate trend. Udonis Haslem brought the energy and crashed the boards, tallying 10 points and eight rebounds. Dorell Wright came up huge with 15 points on 4-5 shooting (5-5 from the free throw line). Mario Chalmers reached double figures for the second straight game. Heck, even Beasley appeared to find a late groove with two straight jump shots in the final minutes. Wade finally had his supporting cast actually supporting him, and how did it work out? Paul Pierce buried the game-winning jump shot as time expired. As time expired. Ouch. And making matters worse was the fact that Wade was stuck on the sidelines with severe leg cramps. Double ouch.
It's tough imagining the Heat reserves playing much better than they did on Friday, and who knows how Wade will react in the aftermath of those cramps. I'd wager that the morale in the Heat locker room isn't all that high right now, yet despite that, the series isn't over. The Celtics need one more win, which ultimately, they will obtain. It's just a matter of when. The Celtics would be wise to heed the words of whoever it was that said: "There is no time like the present." They're currently in as good of a position as there is to be in. They're up 3-0 in the series, are coming off a thrilling victory, outlasted Miami's greatest effort yet, and have plenty of incentive to put this series away. They've already proven they're the superior team. It's time to end this thing.