MIAMI -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers relayed a simple message to his team after Tuesday's 102-91 loss to the Miami Heat put Boston in its first 2-0 hole of the Big Three era: Just relax.
Rivers was referring to the first of three off-days before Saturday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but it's advice the team could apply in general terms as well. The Celtics emerged from Tuesday's game battered and bruised, in more ways than just their confidence, after dropping the first two games in South Beach.
Captain Paul Pierce suffered a left Achilles strain in the first quarter Tuesday and spent time in the locker room getting it iced before gutting out the final three quarters. Ray Allen absorbed an elbow from LeBron James in the second half and had to retreat to the locker room in the fourth quarter due to a shortness of breath. Rajon Rondo couldn't get his back loose all day and needed attention on the sideline during a brief fourth-quarter respite.
"[Team trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] and Dr. [Brian] McKeon did a hell of a job today, I'll say that," Rivers said. "We had a circus going on at one point. Ray needed to be taken to the locker room, Paul was coming out of the locker room, Rondo was asking to come out, almost simultaneously, and it was sketchy."
About as sketchy as a 2-0 deficit. But Boston put itself in that position with lapses in play.
The Celtics managed to claw their way back from a seven-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, leaning on their bench while pulling even at 80 with 7:09 to play and the starters rolling back in.
It's a moment Boston may look back on and lament. Despite two inconsistent overall performances to start this series, coupled with the injuries, the Celtics still had a chance to steal a win and put all the pressure on Miami.
Instead, the Heat responded with a 14-0 run, Mario Chalmers splashing a monster 3-pointer before James scored seven straight points by essentially imposing his will on the Celtics. James put back an offensive rebound for an and-1 dunk, added two more free throws soon after, and drilled a 20-foot jumper as Miami's lead reached double digits for the first time all night.
"We were at 80-80, a great position to be at on the road, and they went on [a 14-0] run," Kevin Garnett said. "That can't happen."
And now the Celtics find themselves in the undesirable -- and uncharted -- position of being down 2-0 as the series shifts to Boston. They'll have three days to think about missed opportunities. As teams that find themselves in this situation are wont to do, the Celtics suggested after Tuesday's loss that they have no other option but to rally.
"It's very difficult, but it is what it is and we've got to deal with it," Garnett said. "Now we've got to go home, protect our home court, period. Ain't really much to talk about. It's do or die."
The toughest part might be the three full days to sit on this loss. Which is why Rivers suggested the vacation day Wednesday.
"We'll be ready, I can tell you that," Rivers said of Game 3. "I can guarantee you that. In this case, the rest is good. It's very good for us because we are a little banged up. So I told [the players] to go golf or do whatever they want to do, stay away from each other, stay away from film, stay away from basketball and just relax.
"And then we'll get right back at it on [Thursday] and build up to Game 3, and Game 3 will be in Boston. We like being in Boston."
The question is whether a change of scenery is enough to cure what ails the Celtics. None of the injuries that plagued them Tuesday are likely to linger. Pierce appeared the worst off, and suggested he's "day-to-day." The injury won't keep him off the floor Saturday. Rondo dismissed any concern about his back, though Allen played the final seven minutes Tuesday.
The Celtics might go golfing Wednesday, but they certainly don't have plans for any other trips to the links in May. That's reserved for late June.
"It's frustrating, definitely," Pierce said of the 2-0 hole. "But like I said, they held their serve at home. Now it's our job to try to go home and get two wins."
Rarely has Boston navigated the easy route this season, whether because of injuries or self-inflicted problems. The Celtics probably could have benefited from starting this series at home, but their late-season struggles forced them to open up in Miami.
Now they find themselves facing their most daunting challenge of the Big Three era. The Celtics probably won't be able to heed their coach's advice and relax much Wednesday.
"Regardless of where you go, it's still in your mind," Rondo said. "If you love the game, it's frustrating being down 0-2, or losing any game. Regardless of what we do [Wednesday], individually, I'm sure it'll probably be on everyone's mind."
And Boston won't be able to relax until it atones for its transgressions in Miami.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.