With a 101-91 Game 3 win, the Boston Celtics pulled one game closer to evening the series and defending home court. Kevin Garnett led Boston with 24 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce had 23 and Rondo followed up with 21 points and 10 rebounds as Boston’s new big three cut the series deficit to 2-1 with a convincing victory in TD Garden.
The win prevented the Celtics from falling into a 3-0 hole and gives them a chance to tie the series up at two games apiece tonight in Game 4. And although it was beneficial for Garnett, Pierce and Rondo to all play well in the same game, the Celtics also got a huge boost from role players Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling off the bench. Brandon Bass, who continued to disappoint in Game 3, struggled with foul trouble and only managed four points on 1-of-3 shooting. However, Bass’ foul trouble gave Daniels the chance to come in off the bench and make a huge impact during a critical second quarter stretch. Daniels played great defense on Dwyane Wade and had nine points and five rebounds in 18 minutes while Dooling played phenomenal defense and added seven points. Ray Allen looked more like himself by draining a few 3-pointers to finish with 10 points, but it was Daniels and Dooling that helped the Celtics go on a 15-0 run during a stretch starting with the end of the first quarter and extending to the second quarter.
For the Heat, only LeBron James played well. During Boston’s 15-0 run, the Heat didn’t score for seven minutes and didn’t have a field goal for over eight. LeBron led Miami with 34 points and eight rebounds, but 16 of those points came in the first quarter. Dwyane Wade had a mediocre night, finishing with 18 points on 9-of-20 shooting, Mario Chalmers had 14 and Mike Miller added 11 off the bench. But Udonis Haslem had only three points and Shane Battier missed all six of his shots and put up a goose egg. LeBron can’t do it by himself, especially when the Celtics’ best players show up, and Game 3 was a prime example. The Heat cut a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter to just eight, but they didn’t have enough in the tank to pull off the improbable comeback.
For Game 4, Dwyane Wade has to make Boston remember why losing Avery Bradley was so critical. But role players like Haslem and Battier will also have to step up and contribute more. They also must win the battle for the boards, as they were out-rebounded by the Celtics 44-32 and gave up 12 offensive rebounds in Game 3. They can’t let Garnett kill them in the paint and they can’t allow Rondo to hurt them with penetration again. Rondo is coming off two great games in a row, and if that streak continues, the Heat will need especially big nights from LeBron and Wade. More importantly, the Heat have to strike early and avoid the crowd getting involved. When Kevin Garnett was fouled hard and landed on his back, a potentially scary moment for TD Garden quickly changed into a turning point as Garnett started doing military-style push-ups to get the crowd pumped up. From there the Celtics extended the lead in front of a roaring crowd inspired by Garnett’s toughness. Miami can’t allow the crowd to get involved if they want to take Game 4. Finally, the Heat need to make a concerted effort to get to the free throw line. After many Celtics fans complained about a few questionable calls (and no-calls) down the stretch of Game 2, the refs seemed to take not for Game 3. LeBron only had five free throws in Game 3 (missing four of them) while Wade didn’t get to the foul line once. Miami needs to be more aggressive in attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line, but they will also need to take advantage of free points better after shooting 10-of-20 from the foul line in Game 3. The Celtics have a chance to even the series on their own terms, but I’m expecting a big Game 4 out of LeBron and Wade, so if Boston doesn’t get another big performance out of everyone, the Eastern Conference Finals could be decided in five games.