Heat Defend Home Court, Take 2-1 Finals Lead

LeBron James and the Heat did what they had to in Oklahoma City by grabbing a crucial win on the road in Game 2 to send the series back to Miami for a chance to close the NBA Finals out at home. After a defensive battle in Game 3 that resulted in a 91-85 win for the Heat, the league MVP moved his team one step closer to accomplishing the ultimate goal of winning the first title for the big three.

LeBron was once again spectacular with 29 points and 14 rebounds and has all but settled the debate about which superstar is the best all-around player in the league at this point, but the Heat did receive help from a few other key areas as well. First, Dwyane Wade was once again on the attack at the offensive end, and although he only shot a paltry 8-of-22 from the floor, he finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a low-scoring game where every basket mattered. Chris Bosh still isn’t playing well and had a miserable 3-for-12 shooting night but still managed to chip in 10 points and 11 rebounds. And Shane Battier, who didn’t quite have the same huge impact in Game 3 as he did in the two games in Oklahoma City, still contributed enough to establish himself as the biggest X-factor in this series, hitting every shot he took to finish with nine points. Battier is shooting an astounding 73 percent from beyond the 3-point line in the Finals and continues to spread the Thunder’s defense by knocking down open looks. Another surprise came in the form of James Jones, who added six points off the bench. Udonis Haslem also had six off the bench, Mike Miller had four and Mario Chalmers continued to be a non-factor with just two points. However, the Heat also benefitted from some pretty lackluster play from the Oklahoma City Thunder, especially in the second half.

Dwyane Wade got to the foul line and benefitted from being on the receiving end of a few questionable calls as he made his offensive presence well known in Miami’s Game 3 win.

After sitting out a critical stretch of time in Game 2 because of foul trouble, Kevin Durant once again found himself on the bench early in the third quarter. So despite his 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go with six rebounds, Durant had to sit with four fouls and watch as his team’s 10-point lead quickly evaporated into a two-point deficit heading into the fourth. However, given the way that Durant and the Thunder have played in the fourth quarter so far in this series, it would have been ludicrous to count them out, as it seemed like an inevitable fourth quarter rally was coming to help OKC steal Game 3 on the road and revitalize the opinion that even though Miami has home-court advantage for these three games, the series will not be decided without a fight. But then that rally never came. The Thunder, the same team that has outscored Miami by 17 so far in the fourth, never came to life and took control. Instead, LeBron and the Heat were the aggressors, keeping the Thunder at bay with big buckets and even more importantly, free throws. The Heat won Game 3 entirely because of their incredible efforts to make every free throw count. And with the ever-incompetent Joey Crawford at the helm of Game 3’s officiating crew, the Heat had plenty of opportunities to capitalize as they hit 31 of 35 free throws. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, shot an ugly 62 percent from the line and only attempted 24. While suggesting that the referees are rigging the games for LeBron to win a ring (as many are crying out on social media) is ridiculous, it is entirely true that the NBA needs to take a good hard look at the quality of officiating, especially on the league’s biggest stage. When Joey Crawford starts trending on Twitter at the same time as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, it’s not hard to tell that there’s a problem; specifically, one referee who makes every game about himself with an abundance of dramatic and often, inaccurate calls.

That’s not to take anything away from the Heat, however. LeBron James has been steadily improving in the fourth quarter in this series and as a result, Miami has been winning games by a larger margin. LeBron vowed no regrets with this Finals series and is certainly living up to that promise, dazzling spectators with phenomenal performances that are now extending past the third quarter. But at the same time, a team shooting 35 free throws is ridiculous. Wade had a terrible shooting night but because he got to the line 11 times, he was able to make an impact. Nobody wants to see referee-dominated games, especially when that results in Kevin Durant sitting for long stretches of time that have a great impact on the outcome. It was consistently bad on both sides and a few calls were extremely difficult (the foul on James Harden that could have been a charge on LeBron, the LeBron 3-point play that was called a block on Kevin Durant), but most of the major and momentum-changing plays seemed to go right along with the home team. However, although the reffing played a part in helping Miami take a 2-1 lead on the series, it wasn’t the chief reason the Thunder lost Game 3.

The refs were admittedly terrible, but Kevin Durant was the only one who could get anything going for the Thunder on offense in OKC’s Game 3 defeat.

Aside from Durant, no one could really hit shots for OKC. Game 3’s 85 points was the lowest total for the Thunder since Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round and all of OKC’s big names had problems stepping up. Russell Westbrook was 8-for-18 from the floor and finished with only 19 points and five rebounds. James Harden reverted back to his Game 1 struggles by going 2-for-10 to finish with just nine points. He also had six rebounds and six assists, but in such a low-scoring affair, the Thunder needed every point they could get and Harden wasn’t able to deliver with Oklahoma City’s two stars on the bench during the critical Miami run that demolished the Thunder’s 10-point advantage. Scott Brooks coaching was another problem area, as he probably left Kevin Durant and most certainly Russell Westbrook out of the game for too long, giving Miami a lead and momentum heading into the final quarter. It’s hard to completely fault him for that mistake given the way OKC has played in the fourth quarter so far, but nevertheless, Brooks’ rotation strategy let the lead slip through his team’s fingers in a critical Game 3 that would have been a monumental steal.

Heading into Game 4, OKC really needs everyone to step up. Even Durant, who led with 25 points, needs to improve after a Game 3 that saw him only score six points. In fact, LeBron James finally outperformed his younger counterpart in the game’s decisive quarter, tacking on 10 points that kept OKC at bay despite a few late, desperate rallies. Westbrook needs to be more efficient, Harden needs to live up to his Sixth Man of the Year Award again, and everyone but Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins needs to increase their offensive output. Fisher had nine off the bench and Perkins finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, but Serge Ibaka (five points, five rebounds), Thabo Sefolosha (six points on 3-of-8 shooting) and Nick Collison (two points, two rebounds) all failed to back up their big three. The Thunder also need to drastically improve at the free throw line. They’ve shown problems at the line in the first two games of this series but that trouble area came to a climax in Game 3 as the Heat exploited that advantage to defend their home court. LeBron has realized that Oklahoma City has a very hard time stopping him from attacking the basket and if the Heat continue to get to the foul line so often, the Thunder absolutely have to counter that by making all of their attempts. Thabo Sefolosha also has to do a better job of slowing down LeBron or Wade depending on who he’s matched up with. Durant has to stay out of foul trouble and the Thunder have to play like the incredible fourth quarter team we’ve all seen them become. In the end, I still believe Oklahoma City can win this series, even if the pointless 2-3-2 Finals format that favors the away team will make that difficult. OKC has not played like themselves for the majority of this series and are still contending. It might be the youth, it might be the coaching, it might be the reffing, it might be LeBron James’ dominance and it might be a combination of all of those things. But if the Thunder do manage to regroup and play like the stellar team that shocked the Spurs and the world with their improbable run to the Finals, I would not be surprised to see this series go to Game 7.

LeBron James looks poised to win his first title. Will the Thunder bounce back for Game 4?

Advertisements

Celtics Dominate Heat At Home In Game 3

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.

Marquis Daniels was huge for the Celtics off the bench in Game 3.

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.

They’re getting old, but don’t ever count Kevin Garnett and the Celts with resolve like this.

Thunder Bounce Back In Game 3 Blowout

After falling down 2-0 in San Antonio, the Thunder knew they had their hands full in defending their home court for the next two games of the Western Conference Finals. With a convincing 102-82 rout of the seemingly unstoppable Spurs in Game 3, Oklahoma City pulled within one win of making this series extremely interesting again. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 22 points, but it was Thabo Sefolosha’s breakout game on both ends of the floor that turned last night’s game into a complete blowout.

After Tony Parker lit up Russell Westbrook for 34 points in a Game 2 rout, Scott Brooks made a critical adjustment of sticking Sefolosha on him while putting Westbrook and Daniel Green. The move was extremely effective, as Sefolosha held Parker to 16 points and four assists and turned six steals into offense, finishing with 19 points, which included four 3-pointers. The Thunder’s big three showed up to play once again, but Sefolosha’s breakout performance on both ends of the floor was exactly what OKC needed to be competitive with San Antonio and breathe life into this series. In addition to Sefolosha’s big night, the Thunder also got a big lift from Serge Ibaka, who finally knocked down open looks and asserted himself on the defensive end of the floor. Ibaka finished with 14 points and three blocks, but also clogged up the middle and contested shots in a way not seen in Games 1 and 2. In fact, everyone on the Thunder got involved defensively while putting up points. Kendrick Perkins had four points and three blocks; Nick Collison pitched in six points off the bench; Derek Fisher added five; and James Harden had 15 points and helped the Thunder build up a double digit lead in the first half after going on a tear in the second quarter.

Thabo Sefolosha was huge on both ends of the floor.

But what was most revealing about how vital role players were in this victory for Oklahoma City was how mediocre Russell Westbrook played. Westbrook, who had shot nine more times than Kevin Durant in the series up to this point, finally allowed the NBA’s scoring leader more shots that him. So despite the fact that Westbrook only put up 10 points, it was his nine assists that helped the Thunder establish an offensive rhythm and get their supporting cast involved. When OKC plays like this and gets everyone involved (and when Westbrook isn’t jacking up so many shots), they are unbeatable. By picking up the defensive intensity and getting big performances out of their role players, they made the prolific Spurs look a lot more human than they’ve looked in the past month and a half. From San Antonio’s perspective, 21 turnovers is way too many. Those turnovers allowed the Thunder to get out and snag easy transition baskets. Stephen Jackson and Parker led the Spurs with 16 points each while Tim Duncan followed up with 11 points. Other than that and DeJuan Blair’s 10 points off the bench, no one reached double digits for San Antonio. Manu Ginobili only had eight, Kawhi Leonard had two and Boris Diaw only put up one as San Antonio’s depth completely disappeared. The Spurs finally looked human between the turnovers and shooting 39 percent from the floor, but it remains to be seen if this lackluster play will continue for a pivotal Game 4.

For the Thunder, Game 3 was a huge win and a great confidence booster, but their work isn’t done just yet. They built a double digit lead early and didn’t allow San Antonio any opportunities to come back, but Game 4 will be a clean slate and you can be guaranteed Gregg Popovich will have his team fired up. Oklahoma City took care of business by taking Game 3, but if they drop Game 4, they face elimination on the road. Oklahoma City needs great defense from Sefolosha on Parker again, they need role players to step up on offense and they need to control the boards. However, after a dismal start to the series for this young and talented Thunder team, it looks like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel after all.

The Thunder’s role players stepped up and OKC got the win. But can they do it again in Game 4?

Spurs Rally From 24 Point Deficit, Build 3-0 Lead On Clippers

The Clippers were already down 2-0 and needed to play desperate. They had been dominated on their opponent’s court but now had the chance to play at home to try and gain some momentum back. For awhile, it looked like Los Angeles was going to shorten the series deficit to 2-1 after they jumped out to an immediate 33-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. They even built their lead up to 24 in the second. But even with all of that going their way, the Clippers still couldn’t overcome the resilient and offensively charged San Antonio Spurs, who used a 24-0 run in the third quarter to battle back and snag a 3-0 series lead with a 96-86 victory in Game 3.

Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points and 10 assists and Tim Duncan finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks after a prolific third quarter. Kawhi Leonard had 14 and Manu Ginobili added 13 off the bench. Despite San Antonio’s incredibly slow start, Greg Popovich’s squad picked it up after a dreadful first quarter and outscored the Clippers in each of the following three. The Spurs cut Los Angeles’ lead to 10 at halftime and then took a commanding lead in the third by outscoring Lob City 26-8 in the period. The Clippers’ awful shooting and numerous turnovers gave San Antonio the edge in the third and facing an eight point deficit entering the final period, LAC wasn’t able to regroup and challenge the Spurs’ lead the rest of the way.

Blake Griffin had a fantastic game, but the Clippers are still waiting for Chris Paul to show up in this series.

Blake Griffin had a phenomenal game for Los Angeles, finishing with 28 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Unfortunately, he received little help from his teammates other than Mo Williams, who had 19. Caron Butler failed to score, Randy Foye only put up seven and Nick Young couldn’t make up for either of them with just nine. But the biggest disappointment, once again, was Chris Paul. Paul has a reputation for his indomitable will and his ability to turn any team into a contender during the playoffs. Against the San Antonio Spurs, however, he has been completely and unequivocally outplayed by Tony Parker. Paul finished with 12 points and 10 assists, which isn’t a shameful stat line by any means, but for CP3? That’s nowhere near enough. The Clippers have only had one consistent scorer in this series (Griffin) while their role player/bench guards alternate having good games (Foye, Williams and Young). Without Chris Paul scoring 20+ a game, it’s amazing Lob City has been within reach in a few of these games. The Spurs are certainly looking like the toughest team in the Western Conference and, based on what I’ve seen from around the league in the past few days, are my heavy favorites to win the NBA Finals at the moment. However, they’ve definitely benefitted from Paul’s disappearance during this series.

There really is no hope for the Clippers this season any more. On the one hand, it’s impressive they were able to make it this far in their first year together after some major roster improvements and upheavals. Lob City should be commended for entertaining us all year long with YouTube highlights, for reaching the second round with such a terrible coach as Vinny Del Negro and for doing all of this without Chauncey Billups or a quality offensive center (sorry, DeAndre Jordan, you just haven’t panned out like we hoped). It will be interesting to see how good this team can be with Billups back, especially if LAC can find a way to improve at the small forward and center positions. We should all definitely keep an eye on this team next year. But in the end, losing Game 3 was pretty much the nail in the coffin and after such a monumental/demoralizing comeback/collapse, I’m predicting a sweep. Tony Parker has continued his postseason dominance, outplaying one of the best point guards in NBA history. Tim Duncan has found a way through stellar technique and perseverance to outplay younger and more athletic power forwards and centers. And the Spurs’ bench is just too much for any defense to handle right now. So at the end of the day, the outcome of Game 4 doesn’t really matter. The Spurs would certainly like to win and get more rest, but even if Chris Paul finally does show up and the Clippers get a W at home, San Antonio has this series in the bag already.

The Clippers have had a great year, but Tony Parker and the Spurs will advance convincingly.

Lakers Hit Free Throws, Beat Thunder At Home

Credit the Lakers for swapping roles with the Thunder from Game 2 by coming back from a five point deficit with just under three minutes to play in Game 3. But Kobe Bryant and his team greatly benefitted from an overly aggressive and controlling referee crew (led by Joey Crawford, of course) that awarded the home team with 42 free throws and completely slowed down the pace of the game throughout. There were a total of 70 free throws in this game, a complete travesty for NBA Playoff basketball. But whatever the case, Los Angeles handled business at home, hit 41 of those 42 free throws and breathed new life into this series with a 99-96 win. Oklahoma City still leads the series 2-1, but the Lakers finally got over the hurdle and proved they can beat this offensively powered Thunder team.

Kobe led the Lakers with 36 points (18-for-18 from the line) and made up for his fourth quarter collapse in Game 2 by making so many free throws Game 3’s waning minutes. But the biggest difference in this game, other than the shamefully high number of fouls, was that he finally got some help from his supporting cast. Ramon Sessions, who I criticized in my last post for not showing up at all in the Lakers’ last three playoff games, finally reached double digits again with 12 points. In fact, Sessions, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Steve Blake all scored in double digits. On the Thunder side of the ball, Kevin Durant led OKC with 31 points and Russell Westbrook and James Harden each added 21. But whereas Los Angeles had six players in double digits, the Thunder only had three and couldn’t get much out of their role players. Serge Ibaka went 4-for-10 for just eight, Kendrick Perkins had six, Derek Fisher had four and Thabo Sefolosha had just three. The Lakers’ supporting cast has been incredibly weak for the entire postseason, so any game where the Thunder’s role players are outplayed by LA’s does not hold a promising result for OKC, no matter how proficient Durant, Westbrook and Harden might be.

Kobe Bryant made all 18 of his free throws as the Lakers made the series 2-1.

For the Thunder, this was a pretty costly loss. Not only did they give the Lakers hope in this series by surrendering that five point lead, but they completely abandoned attacking the basket and settled for numerous contested jump shots down the stretch. Even Harden, who has been OKC’s voice of reason in the past with his incessant ability to get to the rim, settled for a jumper late in the fourth quarter. In a game where the refs completely controlled the tempo by calling so many fouls (including at least three questionable calls on Harden), it was a huge mistake to keep taking those jumpers instead of attacking the basket and drawing whistles from the refs. The Thunder have now shot the ball poorly in the past two games, which is the main reason why the games have been so close. A jump-shooting team can’t afford to miss so many shots on the road, so you combine that with Ramon Sessions’ resurgence and the ridiculous amount of free throws taken in this game and it makes sense why the Lakers came out on top. However, this loss is not the end of the world for OKC either. The Thunder probably would have liked to take Game 3 and go for the sweep today in Game 4, but as long as they get one victory on the road, they’ll have taken care of business in Staples Center and put themselves in position to close the series at home.

Game 4 becomes a must-win for the Lakers and it might as well be one for the Thunder. If the Lakers can defend their home court and tie the series up at two games apiece, this series suddenly becomes competitive again. You can never count out a Kobe Bryant playoff team, no matter how superior the Thunder may appear in the postseason so far. Don’t forget that Kobe’s been in this situation before: The Lakers were down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2004 NBA Playoffs before winning four straight to advance to the Western Conference Finals. For the Thunder, the worst possible thing would be to let the Lakers take Game 4 and inspire confidence in a supporting cast that has only played one good game in the series so far. If the Thunder hit their shots and the foul count stays low (or at least lower than Game 3), OKC should get a win on the road and finish the Lake Show in five games.

Kevin Durant dropped 31 but the Thunder didn’t get much out of their supporting cast.

Pacers Pound Miami In Game 3

The Indiana Pacers used balanced scoring and offensive depth to rout the Miami Heat at home in Game 3, taking a 2-1 lead on the series as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James struggled to carry the offensive load again. Indiana had big back-to-back quarters in the second and third (outscoring Miami 52-29 over that span) and despite a breakout performance from Mario Chalmers, the Pacers prevailed in convincing fashion at home with a 94-75 win.

The Heat were reeling after LeBron and Wade choked down the stretch in Game 2, but after Game 3 they’re in serious trouble of losing this series. George Hill led the Pacers with 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but the rest of Indiana’s starting lineup wasn’t far behind. Roy Hibbert finally had a terrific all-around game with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks. Danny Granger also benefitted from playing in front of the Pacers’ home crowd and had 17 points and seven rebounds. David West chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds and Paul George added nine. Darren Collison only had seven off the bench, but his baskets came at a critical stretch in the fourth that kept the Pacers’ lead in double digits. The Pacers also out-rebounded the Chris Bosh-less Heat by a margin of 52-36. Nobody gave my sleeper team Indiana any credit in this series, even after Bosh went down. But it looks like the matchup problems I pointed out in my series predictions are starting to really come to life without Miami’s All-Star power forward on the court.

Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert had improved offensive nights and got the job done defensively, giving Indiana a 2-1 lead.

In the end, the outcome of this game was thoroughly predictable, especially considering how poorly Dwyane Wade shot the ball. Indiana had all the momentum heading into the night after Miami’s complete collapse in Game 2, which made the message known loud and clear: You might have two superstars, but we have balance and depth. Those two things are going to be tough for Miami to overcome if they continue to get so little out of their supporting cast. Mike Miller only had six points, yet another disappointing performance for someone so highly paid. Shane Battier and Dexter Pittman, two starters, put up goose eggs. But the worst was Wade, who was 2-for-13 from the field for only five points while also committed five turnovers. LeBron James, who had a solid first half with 16 points, finished with only 22 after an extremely quiet third quarter. LeBron hit back-to-back shots in the fourth quarter to try and rally his troops, but Indiana kept scoring to keep their double-digit advantage and Miami couldn’t put anything together as the lead extended to over 20. Mario Chalmers led the Heat with 25 points and Joel Anthony pitched in 10 off the bench, but once again, Miami’s supporting cast failed to show up. You combine that with Wade’s appalling offensive night and LeBron being virtually silent in the second half and there’s no question why Indiana turned the game into a rout.

Without Chris Bosh, this series has turned into a battle between depth and two superstars. Since one didn’t show up, Indiana’s balanced scoring completely overpowered the Heat. Home court advantage certainly didn’t hurt, as Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert came out firing and had much greater confidence on their own floor. Hill proved how deadly he can be when his shot is on and West and Paul gave solid contributions. Unless LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on heroic performances in another tough road game in Indiana, this series could very well be over. A lot of people undervalued Bosh and downplayed his injury, saying it would just clear the way for LeBron and Wade to take over. But they seriously underestimated the impact Bosh had down low, and now that Hibbert and West are both going hard in the paint, the Heat have little chance. But the impact of Bosh’s injury doesn’t stop there. Bosh’s absence means LeBron has been moved to the power forward position to take on the task of guarding David West. It’s true that LeBron can “guard all five positions,” but that doesn’t mean he can shut down the physical West without their being drawbacks. West is physically wearing LeBron down and tiring him out, which explains his second half struggles in the past two games. Plus, LeBron switching to West means that Granger isn’t being shut down by the best defender on the court. West can overpower LeBron and Granger is starting to increase his offensive production at the same time. At this point, it would take a poor shooting night from the Pacers and transcendent games from LeBron and Wade for Miami to have any hope of tying the series in Game 4. But with Granger and Hibbert seemingly coming back to life, the Heat really have their hands full now.

Mario Chalmers had a big night, but without D-Wade it didn’t matter. Can Chalmers bring it again in Game 4?

Celtics Take 2-1 Lead In Philly

Despite being banged up and not playing well through the first two games, the Boston Celtics finally looked like themselves and dominated Philadelphia on the road in a 107-91 win in Game 3. Kevin Garnett and the Celtics took a 2-1 lead on the series after a dominant second quarter gave them a double-digit lead heading into the second half.

Garnett led the Celtics with 27 points and 13 rebounds, thoroughly dominating Spencer Hawes and the Sixers in the paint. Rajon Rondo looked much more aggressive on the offensive end from the beginning, driving in the lane and finishing with 23 points and 14 assists. And Paul Pierce, whose shot has been iffy in the playoffs, had 24 points and 12 rebounds despite 6-for-17 shooting as he got to the free throw line 14 times (and hit 11). So even though Avery Bradley put up a goose egg and Ray Allen only had 3 points, the Celtics were able to reach triple digits and make a statement on their opponents’ floor.

Rajon Rondo was much more aggressive on the offensive end and it paid off for the Celtics.

For the Celtics, losing this game surrendered the momentum they battled so hard for in Game 2. The Sixers’ offense was out of sorts and despite reaching 91 points, Philly wasn’t getting the right guys looks. Andre Iguodala, who was having a hot streak over the last few games, only got six shots and finished with 10 points. Evan Turner went 1-for-10 and he and Spencer Hawes only had four points each. Jrue Holiday led the starters with 15 points and Thaddeus Young had 22 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Boston’s much improved offensive night. Jodie Meeks was a pleasant surprise with 13 points off the bench and Lou Williams also had 13, but unless the Sixers’ starters pitch in more points on the offensive end while limiting at least one of the Celtics’ biggest three threats (Garnett, Pierce and Rondo), they don’t have a chance of winning this series.

Boston already handled their business on the road by winning at least one game, but now Philadelphia has to be careful they don’t allow the Celtics to take another one. Iguodala was playing well before Game 3 and not getting him more shots is a mistake. If Young can duplicate his breakout performance and Philly can get anything out of their post players, the Sixers will be back in business. But Garnett has been a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court in this series and won’t give up anything easy. Looks like this banged up, aging Celtic team isn’t as vulnerable as we thought.

Philadelphia has their work cut out for them now after they couldn’t stop Boston at home.