It wasn't just a victory. It was a statement.
Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics took a commanding 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, blowing out the Orlando Magic, 94-71, in Game 3 on Saturday night.
No. 34 had 15 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in 36 minutes on the home hardwood for the Celts.
|The Truth readies to drive on Vince Carter (Getty Images).|
Jumping out to an early lead in the first quarter, the Cs never looked back. Boston stepped up its defensive intensity and shut down Orlando early, as the Boston Globe described:
"The first nine minutes were a medley of disasters for the Magic. They turned the ball over six times, missed 13 of their first 17 shots, and let the Celtics constantly rip the nets. Not only did Ray Allen blur past Dwight Howard for a back-to-the-future dunk, but Rondo, the smallest player on the floor, beat Howard to a rebound. Matt Barnes, who was supposed to be guarding Paul Pierce instead of Ray Allen, often found himself crisscrossed between the two. Pierce and Allen combined for 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The Celtics dug the Magic a 27-12 ditch in just 12 minutes."
It was a lead Dwight Howard and the Magic just couldn't overcome, as ESPN.com wrote:
"Pierce had eight points and five rebounds in the first quarter, when the Celtics scored the first seven points and then added a 14-0 run to open a 21-6 lead. Howard missed his first four shots, along with a pair of free throws, before he made one of two foul shots in the final seconds of the first quarter to cut the deficit to 27-12.
It was the third straight time in the series the Celtics opened a big lead, but in each of the first two games Orlando eliminated most of the deficit to get within a single basket in the final minutes.
This one only got worse."
For that third straight game, it was The Truth leading an early game charge. Paul has now scored the first points in every game in the series after his turnaround jumper found the bottom of the net to give Boston an early 2-0 lead.
No. 34 would get back into the act later in the quarter, burying a three to make it 19-6 with under three minutes to go in the first. He added a jumper with 1:03 to go in the quarter to make it 23-8 and also had a free throw in the first.
On a night when five of his teammates also got into double figures, Paul topped his scoring off early. His smooth mid-range jumper with 3:29 left in the half made it 49-29 Celtics. After an Orlando surge, which cut the lead to 15, The Truth helped to take the heart out of the Magic with his final bucket of the night, a second triple, to make it 56-36 with 9:39 left in the third. Boston would cruise from that moment on to a 23-point win.
The Cs are now just one win away from their second trip to the NBA Finals in three years, and their 21st apperance overall. After the game, Paul told ESPN.com that he and his teammates know the importance of home court advantage:
"We're motivated for what's at stake. We see the big picture," said Pierce, who was the finals MVP when Boston won its record 17th NBA title in 2008. "We were coming home for two games on our home court. We're motivated. We can feel it. Guys know what its like to win a championship and play for a championship."
|It's good to be up 3-0 (Getty Images).|
FINISHING OFF THE MAGIC
No NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
But despite the staggering odds favoring the Celtics to move on, Paul said he knows nothing is certain. Boston residents have witnessed the Red Sox overcoming a 3-0 series deficit in the 2004 ALCS to win the next eight games in a row and a world title. More recent history went the other way on Beantown when the Boston Bruins adversely blew a 3-0 lead earlier this year in the NHL's Eastern Conference Semifinals. With all that in mind, the Captain told ESPN.com that he isn't ready to look past Orlando just yet:
"You always look at the circumstances of a team that have been in that situation and lost," said Pierce, who might also want to brush up on the 1942 Detroit Red Wings and the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins. "We're definitely looking at it and not taking [the Magic] lightly. We know Orlando won eight straight playoff games and they won  games in the regular season, so they're capable [of rallying]. We're not going to take anything for granted."
When asked about a particular tweet that appeared on his Twitter, the Captain told the Globe he wasn't the type of person to show disrespect to the opposition:
“I would never disrespect the Orlando Magic’s team and say we’re going to sweep,’’ Pierce said. “That’s not me. That’s not my character. But my character is I that I feel strongly enough to say that this is what we want to do as a team — come win two games at home. I don’t know who I offended, but that’s the goal whether people like to hear it or not — to win two games. And I don’t regret saying that. At the same time I’ve got a lot of respect for that team and what they’ve accomplished."
However, The Truth's paramount goal has always been to win. He is filled with desire to build upon a great legacy with the winningest franchise in NBA history, No. 34 told NESN.com, he wants to add another ring:
"You think about it," Pierce said Sunday. "You think about the older players. You think about your legacy. You think about the great Celtics teams of the past. You think about a number of things. Like I've said, when you play on these great Celtics teams, they've done it more than once. When you want to be mentioned with the great players, I think after you win one, when you win two, it really solidifies your position in NBA history as a great player. I'm trying to be there."
Paul and the Celtics go for the sweep of the Orlando Magic tonight in Game 4 at the TD Garden. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. EST and the game can be seen nationally on ESPN.
Celtics haymaker all but leaves the Magic out cold (Boston Herald, May 23, 2010)
Celtics overpower Magic to cruise to 3-0 advantage in East finals (ESPN.com, May 22, 2010)
Practice notes: Nothing Bruin(s) (ESPN.com, May 23, 2010)
Paul Pierce Determined to Be Known as Celtics Great (NESN.com, May 23, 2010)
Pierce shows he’s not all talk (Boston Globe, May 23, 2010)
Disappearing act (Boston Globe, May 23, 2010)