Rajon Rondo didn’t put up 44 points in Game 3 because he didn’t have to — he had help this time.
But if the Heat were going to win Friday night LeBron James would have needed to put up huge numbers because his teammates didn’t bother to show up until the fourth quarter.
The result was Boston playing like the Big Three we have come to expect, a vintage virtuoso performance controlling the game most of the way with their defense, leading by 24 at one point and holding off a Miami fourth-quarter run to win its first game of the series 101-91.
Miami still maintains a 2-1 series lead and Sunday’s game in Boston now looms large.
Boston had pretty much everything go its way Friday night, even the calls from the referees (LeBron and Dwyane Wade combined to take just five free throws). The only questions are can the Celtics replicate it and how will they deal with the Heat bringing much more energy and aggressiveness next game?
Miami let Rondo control the tempo from the second quarter on and could not stop Kevin Garnett in the paint, which is what turned the game. Well, really, what turned the game was the 15-0 run that spanned more than six minutes from late in the first quarter through the start of the second. That is when the game and momentum turned.
But during that stretch Rondo made some fantastic post passes to Garnett — some over the top of the defense that allowed Garnett to score at the rim. Boston had 58 points in the paint on the night.
Boston also scored in transition, with Rondo pushing the ball into the paint and kicking out for open 3-pointers.
“The difference was our defensive energy, which allowed us to run,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We ran into space; I thought we had fantastic ball movement for three quarters.”
Boston got balance this time — Rondo had 21 points and 10 assists, Garnett had 24 points and Paul Pierce added 23. The Celtics also finally got some help from the bench, with Marquis Daniels pitching in nine points and Keyon Dooling adding seven.
Miami looked flat offensively and were getting outworked all night long — they didn’t get back in transition and had Rondo running down behind them and nobody trying to find Pierce or Ray Allen spotting up at the arc.
Everyone on Miami looked flat — except for LeBron. Midway through the third quarter he had half the team’s points (28 of 56). LeBron finished with 34 points and had a game that reminded you of his Cleveland days. Wade had 18 but needed 20 shots to get them.
Still, you knew there would be a Heat run and it came in the fourth, with Miami attacking again (although still doing it too much out of isolation). The Heat started closing off the lane to the Celtics again. They made it interesting at the end, and the loud Garden got awfully quiet. Mario Chalmers had a great game with 14 points.
But it was too little, too late.
Miami will be a different team Sunday, more aggressive and looking to attack off the pick-and-roll. They are going to try to set the tone.
If they can’t, we will have an even series. And you know this veteran Celtics team is not going to just roll over; the Heat are going to have to earn it.