Pierce: 'We want to be desperate'
Celtics vow to maintain focus on finishing off Heat in Game 4
MIAMI -- Keeping in mind the 17 championship banners hanging above the TD Garden floor, consider the many playoff series the Boston Celtics have engaged in over the franchise's storied history.
Now consider this: Boston has swept only four best-of-seven series. Ever.
The Big Three, both old and new. Hondo and Rondo. Sam Jones and K.C. Jones. "Mr. Clutch," "Satch" and "Nellie."
Despite all the talent that has passed through the Garden(s), Boston has completed only four sweeps in 85 best-of-seven series. Three came during Larry Bird's tenure (1980, 1981 and 1986) and the other in the 1959 NBA Finals against Minnesota.
What's more, Boston has never completed a first-round, best-of-seven series sweep. It has a chance for a bit of franchise history Sunday when it tangles with the Miami Heat in Game 4 (ABC, 1 p.m.) at the American Airlines Arena.
After the team engaged in a film session Saturday afternoon, "sweep" was a taboo word. Even though no team in NBA history has ever lost a series in which it has held a three-game lead, the Celtics suggested they were approaching Game 4 as if it was a more familiar Game 7 (of those 85 best-of-seven series, 24 have gone to a winner-take-all game).
"The mentality I have toward it is that it's a 3-3 tie and this is a must-win game," said captain Paul Pierce. "We want to be desperate. We don't want them coming back to Boston with any kind of confidence."
In fact, the Celtics don't want the Heat coming back to Boston at all. And even as players rushed to soak up a little sunshine near the hotel pool on a gorgeous Miami day, Pierce stressed that the team wasn't interested in making a return trip to South Florida for what would be Game 6.
"We don't want to leave anything behind," said Pierce. "We don't plan on coming back to South Beach probably until the summer.
"I'm a big fan of boxing and I've seen boxers lose 11 rounds, then knock a guy out in the 12th round. Anything is possible, like Kevin [Garnett] says.
"I know they say the chances of a team coming back from 3-0 are slim, but you never know when you have a great player like [Dwyane] Wade. That's a team that played well down the stretch of the season and they're capable. We don't want to give them any confidence."
Since the new Big Three was formed, the Celtics have completed six playoff series and all went at least six games. This Boston core has never made it easy on itself, even in the championship campaign of 2008, when series in the first two rounds (vs. Atlanta and Cleveland) each went seven games.
With this year's conference semifinals tentatively scheduled for early May, a win Sunday would afford the Celtics approximately a full week's vacation to prepare for whoever emerges from the Cleveland-Chicago matchup. That's a veritable offseason in the NBA.
But the Celtics weren't thinking too much about rest Saturday.
"At this point, I'm focused on the Heat, to best honest with you," said Garnett, when asked about a potential long playoff run for Boston. "I'm not looking past this game, so I'm not even going to indulge in conversation [about the future]. The focus right now is trying to win this Game 4 in Miami. That is the focus, not looking at what happens after this."
While some have suggested the Heat already gave their best in Friday's Game 3, only to have Boston emerge with a heartbreaking 100-98 triumph when Pierce connected on a 21-foot jumper over Dorell Wright at the buzzer, Garnett said he expects a desperate Heat team Sunday eager to prolong its season.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted before Game 3 that Boston hadn't won anything yet. He continued that line of thought on the eve of Game 4.
"Well, we haven't won the series," said Rivers. "We've won three games. Until they change that number, we have to stay on the attack. Quite honestly, we have to be a better defensive team than we were in Game 3. They scored 98 points and could have had more. And they won the 50/50 game the entire game. Every loose ball they got, [Michael] Beasley scored eight points on loose balls alone. We can't lose the 50/50 game and let them do what they did on the glass and think we'll win that game. We have to be a better defensive team."
Unlike Garnett, Rivers talked about whether the Celtics could be championship material, but took a wait-and-see approach.
"We'll see, I've been saying that all year," said Rivers. "There are other [older] teams that have done it. History is on our side. We'll find that out. I can't give you the answer, but I think we can. I have no doubt that we can."
For all the hand-wringing about Boston's age, the numbers support Rivers' claim.
Even after the Celtics added a pair of 25-year-olds in Oliver Lafayette and Tony Gaffney late in the season, the team's average age is right around 29.
Before the Lakers won the NBA title last year with an average age of 27 years, 36 days, the previous four NBA champs averaged at least 29 years (in fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the 2007-08 Celtics were the youngest champ of the previous four years at 29 years, 172 days).
The 2006-07 Spurs were the oldest NBA champion ever at an average age of 31 years, 280 days.
Boston players don't deny that the rest that would come with a sweep for the Heat would be valuable. Rivers loves to joke about Boston's age and his team's need for rocking chairs.
But here's one other benefit from a sweep: In three of the four seasons that Boston has completed a best-of-seven sweep, they've won the NBA title.
In 1986, Boston swept Milwaukee in the conference finals before topping Houston in six games in the NBA Finals. In 1981, Boston swept Chicago in the conference semifinals, then dispatched Philadelphia in seven games and Houston in six to win the NBA title.
Could a sweep propel Boston toward another title?
Garnett would tell you that anything is possible.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.