Arbella Game Preview: Game 3 - Heat at Celtics


BOSTON – It’s backs against the wall with nowhere to go but forward. That’s where the Boston Celtics feel they stand heading into tonight’s Game 3 against the Miami Heat, which is set to tip off at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Miami currently leads the series 2-0 after effectively defending its home court in the opening two games of the series. The pressure is now on Boston to do the same in Games 3 and 4.

“The urgency is there,” said Kevin Garnett, who seemed taken aback by a question that asked if his team was taking this contest as seriously as possible. “This is it. We’ve used all our lifelines. This is it. I hate to say it like that, but it’s true.”

And so the Celtics head into Game 3 with a mindset that would typically be present for a team on the verge of playoff elimination. Boston isn’t quite there yet, and it doesn’t believe it’s on its way to that point, either.

When asked if his team and the Los Angeles Lakers, who were also in a 0-2 hole at the time (and are now down 3-0), are “not quite dead yet,” Doc Rivers responded pointedly: “I didn’t know we were dying.”

That’s the type of bravado that Boston is showcasing heading into Game 3. The Celtics know that they haven’t played their best basketball, and they know that the Heat did what home teams are expected to do – win on its home court.

Now that the series has shifted north to the TD Garden, Boston has an opportunity to tie the series by defending its home parquet. Rivers, for one, isn’t lacking confidence that his team will step up to the plate tonight.

“We just have to play better, and we’re capable of doing it without a ton of adjustments,” he said. “But we can do that, and I think we will.”

It’s not as much about changing the game plan for Boston as it is about executing it better. The Celtics haven’t run their offense through and through, and Rivers said as much on Friday, particularly about Garnett.

Rivers requested 20 shot attempts out of KG in Game 2, and that’s exactly what he got. Many of those shots, however, were rushed, and many of the non-rushed shots were chippies that Garnett didn’t cash in on.

Garnett’s teammates were in the same situation. The Celtics rushed themselves offensively and didn’t finish their open opportunities around the basket. Those traits are atypical of this team, so to expect that they will subside sooner rather than later is certainly not a stretch.

The question is if they will subside in time to save Boston’s season. The Celtics aren’t on the brink of elimination, but they understand the importance of Game 3. Their backs are against the wall, and the only way to step forward is to deliver a victory tonight.

Play Through Contact

To deliver that victory tonight, one thing the Celtics must do better in Game 3 is to play through contact. Rivers noted on Thursday and Friday that his players did not finish shots in the paint, and one of the reasons why is because they were not playing through contact.

“Honestly, we’ve gotten to the basket a lot,” said Rivers. “I showed our guys a clip today, it’s over 35 (attempts) in the paint, inside-the-charge-circle misses. In two games, that’s a lot.”

NBAStatsCube tells us that the numbers Rivers referenced are a bit off, but the accurate numbers are still substantial. Boston has shot 26-of-54 in the restricted area during this series, good for 48 percent. Miami, meanwhile, has shot 23-of-33, which is a 70 percent clip.

“We also have gotten [to the basket] and gone away from the contact to try and finish the basket instead of going through people,” Rivers said on Thursday. “That’s one of the things – I think they all saw that – it’s amazing how often we did drive. But we drove and tried to make some crazy shot instead of going through bodies.“

Rivers wants that to change in Game 3. If it does, the Celtics’ offense will be operating at a much higher level.

Play with Confidence

Boston has shown for the past two days that it has plenty of confidence heading into Game 3. Paul Pierce gave several quotes at Friday’s practice displaying such a faithful state of mind.

“I feel great (about our team),” Pierce said on Friday. “Had a chance to watch some film yesterday, make some good points, couple days of practice. I feel good.”

Moments later, he also said, “I like our chances, especially with our backs against the wall. We’ve been a team that’s been able to respond over the course of the last few years when we’ve come across some adversity. So this is what I call adversity: we’re down 2-0, in our home building, so I expect us to respond in a very positive manner tomorrow.”

The Celtics are talking with confidence, but they won’t win this game with talk. Game 3 can be deposited in the win column, but only if Boston plays with physical confidence on the court.

Narrow the Free Throw Gap

When Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are on the same team and playing to their potential, it’s nearly impossible to stay close to the Heat in the free throw department. That dynamic duo was on it’s A-game in Games 1 and 2, and that’s why the Heat made more free throws (53) than the Celtics attempted (40).

Wade and James are otherworldly athletes, but the Celtics can defend them without sending them to the free-throw line at a ridiculous rate. Boston proved as much in the regular season.

Nearly every member of the Celtics’ team who has spoken to the press this week has said that the free throw disparity must be decreased in order to pull closer in this series.

“We’ve got to be a lot more firm, a lot more aggressive getting to the line,” Garnett said on Friday.

Pierce is the Celtics’ most frequent free throw shooter, as he attempted 1,021 shots from the charity stripe this season, but he has only taken eight free throws in this series. That number is three less than his 3-pointers attempted number of 11.

When Boston wants to play aggressively offensively and gets to the line, Pierce is the man who sparks that play. Another player who can help increase the free throw numbers for Boston is Shaquille O’Neal, who’s expected to return to the lineup for the first time since April 3.

When he was brought in this past summer, the first thing the Celtics talked about was the fact that he would help them get into the bonus earlier in contests. Boston hasn’t exactly struggled getting into the bonus during this series, but it has struggled to take advantage of the bonus. If Pierce, Shaq and Co. can turn up the aggressiveness, the free throw attempts should follow.