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They withstood a first quarter in which they shot 8-for-25 and went scoreless on 11 straight possessions. They withstood ugly shooting performances from their two leading scorers. Somehow, some way, in a game where almost everything went wrong offensively, the Celtics were leading early in the fourth quarter.
But they couldn't hold on. And instead of looking to close out the series on Thursday, they're looking to keep the Lakers from evening it up.
And the Boston story of Game 3 will be the story that keeps popping up during these playoffs: The Celtics are best defensive team in the league, but offensively, they have the potential to lay an egg on any given night.
Tonight, they got a terrific performance from Ray Allen, who scored 25 points on 8-of-13 from the field. But the offensive positives end there for the Celtics. And the negatives start with Allen's big three brethren, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
After shooting .539 in the regular season and .517 in the first three rounds of the playoffs, Garnett has not shot well all series, hitting just nine of his 22 shots in Game 1 and seven of 19 in Game 2. Tonight, Garnett's line was 6-for-21, putting him at .355 from the field for the Finals.
It's been a case of too many jumpers and not enough post-ups for Garnett. The shots are coming from too far from the basket, and the shots aren't falling.
Pierce, on the other hand, was 16-for-26 in the first two games, including 7-for-8 from downtown, clearly the MVP of the series before it moved to L.A. And as it did, stories focused on Pierce's return home and how he would handle it.
"He's been home before," Doc Rivers said after Game 2, "and I think veterans pretty much have figured out how to enjoy their family and then keep them away at the same time. I think Paul has pretty much mastered that."
Maybe not. Pierce hit just two of his 14 shots tonight, one in each half. Maybe it was the distraction of coming home. Maybe it was fatigue from the cross-country travel. Maybe it was the defense of Kobe Bryant, who hadn't guarded Pierce much in Boston. Or maybe Pierce was just due for a bad game ... a really bad game.
Pierce's struggles were compounded by foul trouble. He picked up two fouls in the first quarter, committed his third late in the second, his fourth midway through the third, and his fifth with 8:56 to go in the game.
"When you're kind of in and out of the game," Pierce said, "two or three minutes, you know, it takes some rhythm from a player like me."
Not that there was much rhythm in the first place. Pierce didn't get to the rim much, but had open shots from the outside, shots he made in Boston.
"I thought we just settled," he said. "We didn't put the ball on the ground, drive the ball and put some pressure on them to defend."
Even when Pierce made a big play, a drive-and-foul (that lone second half field goal) with 3:53 to go in the game, he missed the free throw that could have cut the Lakers' lead to four. Still, after Garnett scored on each of the next two possessions, the Celtics had a chance.
And they could have tied the game with just over two minutes to go, but Eddie House missed a short jumper. And after Sasha Vujacic hit a huge three to make it a five point game, the Celtics put the final nail in their own coffin when Pierce missed on a drive and Garnett missed a tip-in.
It was the story of the game in one possession.
But in a way, the story of Game 3 doesn't have a conclusion yet. We could eventually look back at it as just another misstep on the way to a championship. Or, in the way we look back at the Mavericks' Game 3 in 2006, it could be the moment that ultimately took the Larry O'Brien trophy out of Celtics' hands.