1. Celtics Take Advantage Of Bosh-Less Heat
BOSTON -- Sitting in a losing visitor's locker room at TD Garden late Friday night, Miami Heat veteran and accomplished statesman Shane Battier succulently articulated how the Eastern Conference finals became a series.
"Pressure," Battier said, "is applicable here."
Now for the more primal response, allow Celtics veteran and accomplished emotional utterer Kevin Garnett to give his take:
"It's whatever; it's desperation, at this point it's desperation basketball," Garnett said. "The [expletive] jungle was rocking tonight. I loved it. [Expletive] loved it. [Expletive] it."
Let's sum that up by saying it's one thing to prepare for a desperate team, it's another thing to play one in their building. This is a lesson that gets retold annually in the postseason and it played out again Friday night. It's especially true for the Boston Celtics, a team not only steeped in experience but aware of its mortality at this point, and they played like it in their 101-91 Game 3 victory over the Miami Heat.
The Celtics gave a classic Game 3 response for a home team down 0-2, they played with more intensity and effort than the favorite sitting on the lead. But the Celtics also won in another area that could end up being more sustainable than just feeding off the home crowd for a night: They've starting winning the game plan.
Over the past two games, a near-miss overtime loss in Game 2 in Miami and then Friday, the Celtics have figured out a few things against the Heat and started to squeeze some sensitive areas. It has the potential to change the complexion of this series.
"We got our butt kicked in Game 1; in Game 2 we felt like we played well but missed some [opportunities]," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought our confidence was higher, honestly."
There are two changes Rivers has employed that have put the ball squarely in Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's court. Both involve the missing presence of Chris Bosh and, therefore, will be a bit challenging for the Heat to counteract if Bosh is declared out for Sunday's Game 4.
First is the Celtics' honing in on Dwyane Wade by throwing double-teams at him, especially when he gets screens. It was those high screens that he fed off of in the last round against the Indiana Pacers as he would explode into the lane with the space. The Celtics, freed by not having to deal with a scorer like Bosh setting the screen, now just double-team Wade regularly. When LeBron James is resting, it really limits the Heat's offensive options.
Wade had tried to react by adjusting his positioning and attempting to get into fast breaks, even off made Celtics baskets. But overall his offense is dwindling. He had just two points in the first half of Game 2, when the Celtics first made the move, and then just six points in the first half of Game 3. He finished with 18 points, which isn't bad but isn't what the Heat need with Bosh's offense missing. As it was, it was the first time in 12 playoff games he's failed to break 20 points against the Celtics.
The move is significantly limiting his driving, especially in standard half-court offense, as well as his postup plays. Mostly Wade is responding to the extra defender by just passing. In Game 3, he had no free throw attempts, the first time that's happened in a playoff game since his rookie year in the 2004 playoffs.
"Their game plan is to take something away from us," Wade said. "I'm trying to be very patient and having trust in my teammates."
The second focus point involves a little fewer X's and O's.
"Throw it up, Kevin will go get it," Rivers said. "There's nobody taller than him on the floor."
Without Bosh, the Heat are without their primary defender on Garnett and his size advantage is clear. Garnett has 3 to 5 inches on most of the defenders the Heat use on him. At the end of games, that man is usually James. The Heat tried some various tactics to limit him, mostly making it hard to get him the ball. But the Celtics have focused in on pounding it to Garnett inside and the Heat couldn't slow him.
He finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but the overall interest in getting it to the paint led the Celtics to pile up a stunning 58 points in the paint.
"[Rivers] just kept preaching throw it up to him," said Rajon Rondo, who had 21 points and 10 assists. "LeBron is athletic, or [Udonis] Haslem, but they can't get to the ball."
Of course, it's not that simple. There were several anomalies in the game, some a result of classic change of venue symptoms. The Celtics got 71 points from their starters, a huge number. They also won the rebounding by 12, their second-best spread of the season. The Heat missed half their free throws. Boston reserves Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling combined for 16 points and 9 rebounds on 70 percent shooting.
None of these are likely to duplicate. But with the adjustments Rivers has made and with Bosh's status up in the air, the Celtics do have a basis to try to mount a comeback. And the pressure to do something about it moves to Spoelstra.
"They got us tonight and really knocked us back on our heels," Spoelstra said. "Our energies now will be focused on Sunday and what we can do to do better."
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Garnett. Hard to go against Rondo and even Pierce here, but KG dominated inside for Boston. He had 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. Miami went small and couldn't handle KG inside with his length and activity.
LVP: Dwyane Wade. Whether or not Wade is healthy, he's played some real clunkers in this postseason at times. Not only did he need 20 shot attempts to get 18 points, but he didn't get to the free throw line once.
Defining moment: When Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels came into the game, the small lineup of the Celtics completely disrupted Miami's attack. From the 1:16 mark of the first quarter to the 6:07 mark of the second quarter (Daniels' first stretch), Boston outscored Miami 14-2 and took control.
3. Friday's Best
Kevin Garnett, Celtics: The lasting image of Game 3 was KG doing push-ups on his knuckles after being knocked to the floor. The big man flexed his muscles all night on both ends of the floor and the Heat were unable to come up with an answer.
4. Friday's Worst
Dwyane Wade, Heat: His overall numbers look fine, but anyone who watched the game knows that LeBron's usual sidekick didn't do nearly enough to help the Heat win on the road. The most telling stat? Zero trips to the foul line.
5. Quote Of The Night
"They defended their home court. In a couple of days, we'll do the same."
-- Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, after Boston won Game 3.
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Tweet Of The Night
8. Where's The Help?
9. Dunk Of The Night
10. Stats Check
The Celtics outscored the Heat 58-46 in the paint. Boston's 58 points in the paint are its most paint points in a playoff game since May 4, 2008, against the Hawks, when the Celtics scored 60 paint points in their 99-65 Game 7 win.
The Celtics' 58 points in the paint are their most in any game this season (regular season and playoffs). Boston is 7-3 since the start of the 2009 postseason when it scores at least 50 points in the paint.
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett scored a team-high 24 points, with 14 of them coming from inside 5 feet. In the first two games of the series, Garnett was 5-of-10 (50.0 percent) from inside 5 feet but was 7-for-11 on Friday.
Garnett's teammate, point guard Rajon Rondo, was 4-of-6 (66.7 percent) as the pick-and-roll ball handler in Game 3 and is shooting nearly 70 percent on pick-and-roll plays in the first three games of the series. Rondo shot 36 percent as the pick-and-roll ball handler in the first two rounds of the 2012 playoffs.