When the Miami Heat won Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics stated their confidence in winning the series.
So when the Celtics won Game 3 in Boston on Friday, the Heat asserted the same belief that they could bounce back with a win.
We're up 21, Udonis Haslem said during media availability on Saturday. Obviously we have another opportunity to try to win another game tomorrow. I don't feel any pressure. We don't feel any pressure, I think. Not time to push the panic button. We know why we lost, and we know what we have to do, so it's not a big mystery.
In addition to limiting the Celtics, the Heat will look to get Dwyane Wade more involved offensively. He scored 18 points in Game 3, compared to 22 in Game 1 and 23 in Game 2.
We want to go up 31, no question about it, said Wade. Obviously, they don't want to go down 31. It's going to be a very competitive game. They've been in these battles before. We've been in these battles before. These are moments and these are the kinds of games, especially Games 4, that you love. Like I said, our only goal is to come up here with a split. We have one more shot at it, and hopefully we can pull it off.
Kevin Garnett referred to Game 3 as a desperation game. Now with the Celtics determined to even up the series on their home court, the Heat are looking to play the role of spoiler and return to Miami with the opportunity to clinch the series in Game 5.
It's one game, LeBron James said. They protected the home court for Game 3. We get another opportunity, thats the best thing about it. We get another opportunity to play tomorrow, and we're going to try to win a game, go back home and try to finish it up.
BOSTON -- When it comes to public opinion, Danny Ainge has never been one to be consumed by it or let it trickle into a decision he was thinking about for the roster.
So you can understand why the "What are they doing?" cries from Celtics Nation when he traded away the No. 1 overall pick earlier this month never resonated with him.
MORE ON GEORGE/HAYWARD
And you can understand why Ainge, when the Chicago Bulls became serious about moving Jimmy Butler on draft night, never put forth a competitive offer even though he had more than enough trade chips to do so.
He has patiently waited for his vault full of assets to increase, like blue-chip stocks, to a point where they had real value to a team open to moving a superstar talent to Boston.
That time appears to be now, with the Celtics well-positioned to add not one but two All-Stars in Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Indiana’s Paul George.
The Celts are pursuing both simultaneously, knowing they have to secure Hayward first in order to arrange to have enough salary-cap space to make a trade with the Pacers for George.
Not surprisingly, the first move in this 1-2 step is the hardest.
Boston will have to convince Hayward, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler and was named to his first All-Star team in February, to bypass an extra year and about $40 million --- which he could get by staying in Utah -- to sign here. The advantage the C's have, in addition to the lure of playing for his ex-college coach, is that the path towards the NBA Finals is a lot more realistic with them than with the Jazz, who are on the rise but not quite close enough to where they are a legitimate threat to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Meanwhile, the Celtics are coming off a season in which they finished with the best record in the East and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. They also return the core from last year's team, led by two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
It’s likely that at least one member of the team’s core will be included in a trade for George, a pending free agent whose representatives informed the Pacers he was not going to sign a long-term contract with Indiana and that his preferred destination for 2018-19 (and beyond) was his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers don't have the kind of assets the Pacers are hoping to secure for their four-time All-Star. The Celtics, however, are in position to potentially overpay for George and not have it devastate their growth in both the short and long term. They also feel that once they get him here, they can convince him to stay . . . and, indeed, some people in George's camp feel Boston is a better landing spot than Los Angeles.
However, the key in all this is Hayward, who will also get a strong pitch from the Miami Heat.
Complicating this even further for the Celtics has been the salary cap coming in at just $99 million as opposed to what most anticipated would be a couple million dollars more.
“It is hard,” Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, told CSN’s Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely recently regarding the salary cap for this season. “With the cap going down, it’s a little bit of a jolt. It doesn’t seem like a lot and every team has to deal with this. But we were planning pretty close to the dollar, to have a good team this year but to max cap space flexibility going into the offseason.”
In order for the Celtics to pull this off, it likely means they will have to part ways with at least one of their core players to ensure there’s enough cap space.
But considering what they could look like roster-wise on opening night, having to trade a player because of the decreased salary cap is the kind of the collateral damage that the C's can live with.
Marcus Smart, meeting the media at his basketball camp for kids at Brandeis, sang the praises of potential future Celtics teammate Gordon Hayward.
"He's an awesome player," Smart told MassLive.com's Jay King and others on Tuesday.
“He’s a dude who understands the game really well. I think it’s because he had [Celtics coach Brad Stevens] as a coach (while playing at Butler). Nah, I’m kidding. He’s incredible. He’s a great player, he’s a great guy, and I think I speak for a lot of guys in this league when I say that.”
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports' The Vertical is the latest to report that this summer the Celtics are working on acquiring both Hayward and trading for Pacers' All-Star forward Paul George.
How would Smart sell them on playing in Boston?
“First off, this fanbase is incredible,” Smart said. “The energy that they give off every night, night in and night out, is remarkable. And then playing under Brad...who’s understanding the game more and more. He’s learning, and he’s becoming one of the greatest coaches in this league.
"You’ve just got to love the things that he’s doing, and I think that everybody in the league understands that. They appreciate the work he puts in, and they see everything he’s been doing and accomplishing.”
NBA free agency opens this Saturday.