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John Schuhmann

Dominating the inside has been a top priority for both teams this series.
Nathaniel Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Controlling the paint crucial for Heat, Celtics

Posted Jun 2 2012 1:06PM

BOSTON -- We have a clear statistical theme for these Eastern Conference finals.

No, it's not fouls or free throws. It's points in the paint. The Boston Celtics had a season-high 58 of them in Game 3 on Friday, a 101-91 victory over the Miami Heat that sets up a critical Game 4 on Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

In the first two games of the series, 68 of the Celtics' 162 shots (42 percent) came from the paint. In Game 3, it was 44 of 76 (58 percent). And they almost eliminated the inefficient mid-range shot from their arsenal.

Only one team in the league -- the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats -- took a greater percentage of their shots from mid-range than the Celtics (38.0 percent) did in the regular season. And through Game 2 of the conference finals, Boston was attempting an even higher percentage of their shots from mid-range (38.4) in the playoffs.

But on Friday, Boston only took four mid-range shots in the first half and just 15 total. That's the fewest mid-range shots they've taken all season, with the previous low being 18.

Kevin Garnett was the key. Instead of playing pick-and-pop all night, he rolled to the basket or posted up, finally playing like the biggest guy on the floor. And with the Heat often fronting the post, the Celtics were able to get the ball to Garnett under the basket, where he took 11 of his 16 shots.

Kevin Garnett's shooting
Games 1-2 6 13 46.2% 9 21 42.9%
Game 3 8 12 66.7% 2 4 50.0%
P = From the paint
O = From outside the paint

In the Celtics' nine postseason wins, Garnett has averaged 6.8 shots from the paint. In their seven losses, he's averaged 4.4 shots in the paint.

Garnett wasn't the only one getting in the paint in Game 3. Seven different Celtics scored in the paint, including Rajon Rondo, who finished better at the rim (6-for-9 in the restricted area) than he did in the first two games (10-for-22).

The Celtics are 14-0 over the last two seasons when they score more than 50 points in the paint. It's such a simple formula for success, but much easier said than done, especially against this opponent. Typically, Miami both prevents shots in the paint and defends them well. Just not on Friday.

No freebies, no second chances

Of course, the biggest difference between Game 2 and Game 3 wasn't the Boston offense, which was potent both nights, whether it was scoring in the paint or not. Friday was the first time in the series when the Celtics actually slowed down the Miami attack.

The Heat actually shot well from the field (49.4 percent). But they didn't get to the line as much as they did in the first two games. And when they did, they couldn't make their free throws, shooting just 10-for-20 from the stripe.

Most important, the Celtics rebounded better than they did in Games 1 and 2. After totaling 26 offensive rebounds and 35 second chance points in the first two games, the Heat had just six offensive boards and seven second chance points on Friday.

Miami also shot poorly from the corners for the second time in the series. In Games 1 and 3, they shot 1-for-17 on corner 3-pointers. In Game 2, they were 7-for-14.

Small lineups playing big

Also key to the Boston defense was Brandon Bass' foul trouble. The Celtics went small for about 36 minutes in Game 3 and outscored the Heat 69-51 in the 31 minutes when Bass was on the bench.

Small lineups have proven to be more effective for the Celtics in this series, at least when Kevin Garnett is the one big man on the floor. Boston has outscored Miami 115-87 in 55 minutes when Garnett has been on the floor with four guards or wings (nine different combinations).

Celtics efficiency, big vs. small
Lineup MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
2 bigs 73 103.0 113.2 -10.2 -15
1 big - Garnett 55 113.5 87.1 +26.4 +28
1 big - Bass, Hollins or Stiemsma 18 96.4 154.6 -58.2 -24
1 big total 73 109.6 104.4 +5.2 +4
*Does not include garbage time
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

That's some pretty efficient offense, but the bigger difference between the small lineups and the big lineups is the defense. The Heat have gone to the line more often against the Celtics' small lineups, but have shot just 30-for-85 (35 percent) against Garnett and four smalls. When Bass and Garnett have been on the floor together, Miami has shot 43-for-86 (50 percent).

Without Chris Bosh, the Heat are basically playing small all the time. So it may be that Bass just doesn't have anyone to guard. As evidence, all you have to do is compare the Celtics' defensive numbers with Bass on or off the floor.

Celtics efficiency with Bass on and off the floor
Bass on/off floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Bass on floor 80 96.5 119.1 -22.6 -34
Bass off floor 69 120.4 98.8 +21.6 +26

Whether Bass is in foul trouble or not, expect to see a lot more of the Celtics' small lineups in Game 4.

All numbers courtesy of

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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