But when you play the Miami Heat, your history goes out the window. Fans from all across the basketball world jump onto your basketball bandwagon. On Friday night, the Celtics seemed to realize this. Maybe they heard more than just the raucous 18-something-thousand at TD Garden. Maybe they heard the basketball world saying that, just for the moment, they were the good guys. Because they looked inspired, like they wanted to impress.
And they let nobody down, beating the Heat 101-91, and slicing Miami’s series lead to 2-1. It was an almost wire to wire display, as the Celtics controlled the game from late in the first quarter until the end of regulation. Kevin Garnett looked like his old Minnesota self, dropping in an effortless 24 points and collecting 11 boards, while Rondo once again controlled the tempo of the game, racking up a near triple-double with 21 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds. Paul Pierce also chipped in 23 points.
It was LeBron James, though, who owned the first quarter. He came out scoring in every way imaginable; bullying cats in the paint, pulling up from mid-range, and dropping in bombs from 3-point land. With 16 points in the quarter, it looked very much like the it would be one of those nights to remember for The King, who’s played like all his erstwhile fans remember in these playoffs. Maybe it was wrapping up that third MVP award, but he has transformed into the undisputed offensive leader of the Miami Heat, especially since Chris Bosh was laid low with injury. He’s playing with an almost Cleveland-esque confidence, and it’s fun to watch.
But even with LeBron decimating the Celtics D, Boston wasn’t letting the game slip away. They kept the rest of the Heat pretty much under wraps defensively, got a couple of buckets in transition from Rondo and Keyon Dooling, and found ways to get Garnett involved in the half-court. As LeBron began to cool down towards the end of the quarter, Boston clawed their way into the lead, and refused to let it go.
From the second quarter on, the Celtics looked comfortable and confident. Garnett, in particular, found ways to exert himself offensively. In the absence of Chris Bosh, the Heat were forced to use Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony to guard KG, neither of whom can compete with Garnett’s length and athleticism, even at 36 years of age. Rondo did a good job of lobbing the ball up high and into the post, where Garnett made unfettered catches and got down to work. At one point in the second quarter, KG was sent sprawling to the floor after an emphatic block from Haslem. Celtics-nation held their breath as their spindly star centre took a moment to collect himself. But their trepidation turned to triumph as he eased over onto his stomach and fired off eight or nine easy push-ups, showing he wasn’t just all right, but was fired up and ready for action. Even the most stubborn Boston haters must have cracked a grin at that one, remembering the playful KG of old.
From there, the Celtics controlled the game. They gradually pushed out their lead through the second and third quarters, reaching a game high 24 point cushion on a startling one-handed slam from Ray Allen early in the fourth. The Heat surged slightly as the game neared its conclusion, cutting the deficit to as few as eight, but it was too little too late, and the Celtics cruised to victory in the final minutes.
A 3-0 series lead is worlds apart from a being up 2-1. To lead by three games is to be guaranteed a path to the next round. No NBA team has ever relinquished such an advantage. But a 2-1 series suggests that there is barely anything separating the two squads, that at this point, anything could happen. As such, game 3’s victory last night was immense for the Celtics. But, as is always the case in the playoffs, the next game is more important than the last. Boston doesn’t want to be down 3-1 heading back to Miami.
On the other hand, if they can successfully defend their home court on Sunday, they’ll have all the momentum they could ever hope for heading back out on the road. Their execution in game 3 was close to perfect, and it’s how they’ll need to play in each of their next games if they hope to upset the Heat. Miami, meanwhile, needs a bounce back game from Dwyane Wade, who was held to a modest 18 points, and will need to get the ball in LeBron’s hands throughout the game. He took only four shots in the fourth quarter last night after that explosive start to the game.
One final thing worth mentioning is how damn sharp LeBron looked in the post game press conference. Wade always looks pretty dapper, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant put a fun twist on things in Oklahoma, and even Rondo looked pretty put together last night. But Lebron is the undeniable sartorial MVP of the league, in addition to being the world’s best basketball player. His light blue, seersucker-style oxford and deep blue cardigan outfit yesterday was straight up on point. There is one question that begs asking, though. What the hell’s with the fake glasses? I mean, between Wade, James, Westbrook, and Durant, someone’s rocking a zany pair of frames every damn night! (Although, to be fair, I think KD’s are prescription. But still.) A bold pair of eyeglasses is fantastic every now and then, but seriously, let’s give it a little rest. Rant over.