Arbella Game 3 Preview: Heat at Celtics

Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – Rajon Rondo called Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals a “must-win” situation for the Celtics. If that was a must-win, tonight’s Game 3 is a must-must-win.

The Celtics and Heat will tip off Game 3 at 8:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden less than 48 hours after Miami took a commanding 2-0 series lead. Boston, which lost Game 2 in overtime, will be looking to notch its first win of the series and jump back into contention for the conference title.

It nearly accomplished that goal Wednesday night thanks to a historic performance by Rondo. He did something that no other player in NBA playoff history has done, and that is to score at least 44 points, grab at least eight rebounds and dish out at least 10 assists in a single game. Oh, yeah, and he also played every second of the game’s 53 minutes.

“First of all, Rondo was absolutely amazing,” LeBron James said to open up his postgame press conference. “The performance he put on tonight will go down in the record books.”

Rondo’s performance has been the story of the NBA for the past 48 hours, but as he noted after Game 2, that performance was in vain.

“It's irrelevant,” he said. “We lost. It's as simple as that.”

Paul Pierce termed the loss “devastating” when he spoke to the press in the locker room following the game. One would have to believe him seeing as the Celtics wasted Rondo’s all-time performance. Additionally, just about anyone who watched the game would have to agree that the Celtics got the better of the Heat for the majority of the contest yet still lost.

Most teams wouldn’t be able to bounce back from such a crushing loss, but that’s why most teams will be home on the couch watching Game 3. The Celtics aren’t most teams. They have an uncanny ability to fight through difficult situations and live to fight another day.

“Another team possibly (would be distracted by the loss),” said James, “but not them.”

Doc Rivers has reiterated that fact several times since the conclusion of Game 2. He guaranteed that his team was “distracted” in the locker room after the loss, but has been adamant about the fact that when the sun came up on Thursday, his team had moved on.

Now it’s Friday, meaning that by the time the ball is tossed up tonight the Celtics will have had a full two days to bounce back from the loss. They’ll surely need every second of those two days to recuperate, because some of their top guns played huge minutes Wednesday night.

Rondo obviously played all 53 minutes, but Kevin Garnett wasn’t too far behind with his 45:18 of playing time. Pierce and Ray Allen each also played more than 43 minutes.

Those minutes are just another reason why most teams would be down heading into tonight’s Game 3. Don’t expect that from the Celtics, though.

“We’ll be ready to play,” said Rivers on Thursday.

Shortly thereafter, he took it another step further by saying, “Our guys are very confident heading into Game 3.”

Limit Easy Shots

There are two reasons and two reasons only that Miami had any chance at winning Game 2. Those reasons are 3-point shooting and free throw attempts.

While Boston was tearing the Heat apart during the first half of Game 2, Miami hung around thanks to its 6-of-14 shooting from downtown. That’s six more 3s than the Celtics made over the first two quarters of the contest. Miami wound up making 10 shots from downtown on the night, including three apiece from Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier.

However, what really kicked the C’s in the behind was the fact that the Heat took a whopping 47 free throw attempts in the game. James’ 24 attempts from the free-throw line nearly matched the total of Boston’s entire team (29).

Yes, the Heat shot just 66.0 percent from the line, but they still received 31 points from the charity stripe. Boston cannot allow that to happen again tonight if it’s going to win this game, and it must not provide open looks to the Heat from downtown, either.

Team Offense

We noted above what needs to be done on defense. Now we’ll talk about what needs to be done on offense.

The number of points the Celtics scored Wednesday night, 111, and the percentage they shot from the field, 49.4 percent, would indicate that their offense was blistering throughout the contest. It was blistering, but not in the way it typically does.

Rondo was almost perfect with his long-range shooting and Allen had his first strong shooting game of the series, making 5 of his 11 attempts. Those two players led a strong shooting game for Boston, but the majority of the team’s baskets came via one-on-one play. The Celts recorded just 15 assists on 40 made field goals.

If you know the C’s, you know that they share the ball. They were second in the league in assists this season with an average of 23.59 per game. They’re not going to beat a more athletic Miami team playing one-on-one basketball. Boston must share the rock tonight and force defensive rotations from the Heat.

Leave it All Out There… Again

Rivers asked his team to lay it all on the line during Game 2. He implored his players to head to the postgame busses without an ounce of energy left inside them. They delivered on his request, as they played their hearts out and absolutely emptied the tank.

They’re going to need to do the same thing tonight.

Although those tanks might not be full after Wednesday’s challenging defeat, the Celtics did nothing but fly home yesterday and should have enough energy to pull out this win. However, they must display the same amount of urgency and commitment to leaving it all on the line as they did Wednesday night. This win won’t take care of itself.

When the Celtics empty the proverbial tank, they play at a differnet level of basketball. We saw that Wednesday night, and we’ll need to see it again tonight in Game 3.