KG, Celtics Knuckle Down, Take Game 3

BOSTON - Down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics went all Chumbawumba on the Miami Heat.

They got knocked down, but they got up again.

Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett abused the Heat inside, contributing to 58 points in the paint for Boston.

Face it: a 3-0 deficit would have spelled doom for the Celtics, and possibly the Big Three era. But the Celtics weren't going to roll over for the Heat. And they certainly weren’t going to do it at TD Garden, or “The Jungle," as it’s been known over the last decade or so.

When Garnett was decked by Udonis Haslem in a battle for a rebound and went to the parquet hard with 8:58 to play in the first half, you knew he was getting up. Initially, it looked like he may be hurt, and his teammates surrounded him, checking his condition.

Garnett was on the deck for a few seconds, then rolled over, and spontaneously banged out eight push-ups.

Why push-ups? Who knows why. Why eight? Heck, two more and he would have posted a triple-double, considering he dropped 24 points and 11 rebounds in the 101-91 win over the Heat. They now trail the Confernce Finals, 2-1.

“It was all out. I’m getting crap about my form but I want people to know it was on my knuckles. That’s old school,” Garnett said long after the game had concluded, following a lengthy postgame treatment session in the trainer’s room. “My uncle taught me to do push-ups on my knuckles. So I don’t know who (does) push-ups in here but there’s very few who do them on their knuckles. That’s some Army-Navy type stuff.”

“Yeah,” Garnett added. “Knuckles.”

Garnett then went on to acknowledge the TD Garden crowd with a profanity-laced appreciation that drew laughter from reporters but was intended just as much to fire up Sunday’s Game 4 patrons as it was to thank Game 3’s attendees.

“The Jungle was rockin’ tonight. I want to thank all the fans who came out,” Garnett said. “(Expletive) Jungle was rockin’ tonight! I loved it. (Expletive) loved it. (Expletive) it.”

If you’re joining us for the first time since the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery, or you haven’t been paying attention, Garnett feeds off energy, and from the opening tip, the building was revved up. Rajon Rondo got a deafening ovation from the crowd when he was introduced during starting lineups, as the Boston fans thanked him for his incredible Game 2 effort in Miami.

Doc Rivers, on the other hand, joked that he treated Rondo like a pitcher who’s in the midst of throwing a no-hitter. “You stay away from that joker. The guy scored 44 points, What can I possibly tell him? I didn't tell him a word.”

Perhaps it was an exaggeration, as Rivers admitted the only mandate he had for Rondo was simple.

“I told him to keep running the team. Keep running the team,” Rivers said. “The only thing we told him offensively was we had to get Kevin involved. Other than that, just go play.”

When the Celtics really flipped the switch defensively, they wrapped a 15-0 run around the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. The crowd was up to the task, bellowing as the Celtics led 37-28 with 7:47 left in the second quarter, fueled by Garnett’s impromptu workout and some sterling defensive work from reserves Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels. The Celtics took a 55-42 lead into the locker room at the half and continued to feed KG in the post in the third quarter, something Rivers has been preaching throughout the postseason.

“One of the things we kept telling them at the end of the day, throw it up. There's nobody taller than him on the floor. Throw it up in the air, Kevin will go get it,” Rivers said.

The Heat, sans Chris Bosh again, really had no answer for Garnett.

“KG is a difficult matchup for a lot of guys. Period,” said LeBron James after the game. “That's part of the reason why they had 58 points in the paint. He opened up a lot for not only himself but for his teammates as well. And he's definitely a threat down there, and he made some huge shots.”

The Garnett mismatch, combined with successfully keeping James and Dwyane Wade off the free throw line, kept the Celtics out in front throughout the night. While Miami’s stars combined to attempt 35 freebies in Game 2, James took just five foul shots in Game 3, and Wade didn’t attempt any. Miami took 20 free throws overall and hit just 10 of them.

Given that both teams connected on 36 field goals, with five coming behind the arc, free throws were the difference from a math standpoint. But box scores aside, considering the flow of the game, defensive energy was a more palpable differential, and the Celtics took an 85-63 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Heat spent the first nine minutes of the final stanza chipping away at the Boston lead. They put a genuine scare into the C’s when they knocked the lead down to eight points on a Mario Chalmers reverse layup and-one with 3:09 to play. But a 6-2 Boston run capped by a Garnett jumper put the Celtics up 101-89 with 56 seconds to go, and Erik Spoelstra waived the white flag.

“Desperation game, to be honest. And we played like it too. You don’t want to be down 3-0 to a team like this,” Garnett said. “A very, very good team, very talented team, well-coached team. I feel like we played desperation basketball.”

Garnett and company got the Game 3 win they needed, but they’ll need to be equally desperate Sunday night in Game 4. They need to stay knuckled down.