Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo each scored more than 20 points as the Celtics halved the Heat's advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals to 2-1. There was no preserving their legs, though, as a late Miami surge forced Pierce and Rondo to play more than 40 minutes in an effort to fend off the Heat.
LeBron James had 34 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the losing effort.
Fourth quarter, 1:39, Celtics 99-89: All right, Celtics fans could finally breath easy.
Rondo dashed down the lane, where the Heat parted like the Red Sea for Moses, to drop in a layup to give the Celtics a 10-point lead. It would be tough for a team like Miami, which is not a true 3-point shooting team, to make up 10 points in 99 seconds.
Fourth quarter, 2:56, Celtics 95-87: The Heat had plenty left in them. The main question was whether they had enough time.
The Heat continued their surge against the Celtics, who with just under three minutes left in the game had scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. James drew a questionable foul on what looked like a clean block by Allen when James grabbed his head as though it had been hit. The Celtics got a favorable call of their own, though, when Rondo clearly plowed into Battier for a charge but was awarded an and-one shooting foul.
The refs called this one both ways. No objective observer could come to any other conclusion.
Fourth quarter, 5:17, Celtics 93-82: Michael Bush of the Chicago Bears tweeted at the nine-minute mark that this game was over. This is why I don't got to Michael Bush for my NBA news and analysis.
The Heat outscored the Celtics 19-8 over the first six-plus minutes of the final quarter, as Miller fueled another Miami run. Miller, who had only two points entering the final frame, had three 3-pointers to help the Heat pull within 11 points.
The run started with Garnett out of the game, and when the center returned emotions ran high. He got tangled up with Chalmers and tossed an elbow that drew a technical foul, but Miller limped to the free throw line and missed the freebie.
Fourth quarter, 8:51, Celtics 89-70: A wide lead might not be enough to sweeten Garnett's opinion on the officiating. Garnett felt he was hit on the wrist on a shot at the rime and believed there was a body foul on a post entry pass. He went to the floor on the latter and gave the nearest ref available an earful after each play.
End of third quarter, Celtics 85-63: The Heat came back from a 15-point deficit in Game 2, which was the biggest playoff comeback in franchise history. So anything is possible in terms of a Miami resurgence in this game.
Still, it did not look like the Celtics would give away this one. Pierce sized up Mike Miller and then nailed a 3-pointer to extend Boston's lead to 22 points entering the final 12 minutes. James had 30 points in the first three quarters, but he had to work for every one of those baskets.
Rondo posted another double-digit assist game, getting to 10 assists for the second consecutive game, and committed only one turnover.
The foul situation through three quarters was even at 19-19. The Celtics attempted 23 free throws to the Heat's 18.
Third quarter, 2:42, Celtics 76-57: Rondo was serenaded to chants for "MVP!" and it was difficult to argue. The Celtics point guard was following up his memorable Game 2 with another solid performance in Game 3, working his way up to 11 points with a steady diet of jumpers, along with 10 assists and that lone turnover.
Daniels had trouble staying with James, but everyone had a hard time in this game. James had 28 points and calmly canned a couple of jumpers when Daniels went underneath a screen. Daniels picked up his end offensively, though, converting a three-point play that gave the Celtics their largest lead at 21 points.
Third quarter, 8:14, Celtics 62-44: Garnett did what stars are supposed to do, coming out of halftime with a burst of energy on both ends. The Celtics outscored the Heat 7-2 over the first four minutes, led by an aggressive Garnett. The Big Ticket had four points and three rebounds in the early minutes of the third quarter.
Halftime, Celtics 55-42: Suddenly, it was the Heat crying foul. Or more accurately, committing fouls.
James was held to only four points after his 16-point first quarter and headed to the bench with his third foul with 43 seconds left in the first half.
The Celtics protected the ball in the first half, with Rondo continuing his refusal to turn the ball over. The Celtics had only three turnovers in the first half, with one coming on an offensive foul by Garnett.
The Good: James' 20 points could not be ignored, even with his poor second quarter and foul trouble. He added two blocked shots to his stat line. … Dooling and Daniels were the difference off the bench. The pair found time in between their standout defense to combine for 11 points and six rebounds. … Garnett was an efficient 5-for-6 from the field for 12 points, while Rondo had six points and six assists without a single turnover. … Pierce had to deal with James on defense but still managed 15 points and two textbook blocked shots.
The Bad: Wade continued to be oddly silent by hitting only two of his six shots for six first-half points.
The So-so: Chalmers was just as aggressive as he was in Game 2, but the scoring numbers were not as impressive. He hit two of his five shots, although he handed out four assists with only one turnover.
Second quarter, 3:34, Celtics 46-34: On another day, I might suggest that K.C. Jones, who was in the crowd on his 80th birthday, grab a pair of shorts and suit up. He looked good enough to drain at least a couple spot-up spots.
The Celtics did not have much need for him in the second quarter, though. They did just fine with the assemblage of Allen, Dooling, Pietrus and Daniels on the wings, and unlikely foursome giving the Celtics quality minutes against some of the Heat's wing players.
Second quarter, 5:16, Celtics 41-34: Daniels and Dooling came to play defensively. Daniels forced an up-and-down by James, which the referees were curiously slow to call. Most of the Garden inhabitants did not even bother to complain. They were just plain puzzled about the lack of a call until the whistle finally came.
Dooling and Daniels also combined for 11 points, as the Celtics continued to combat the Heat's stars with their bench.
Second quarter, 7:44, Celtics 37-28: Miami was not in a good place. In a battle of small lineups, the Celtics were winning decidedly. Garnett, Rondo, Allen, Dooling and Daniels extended Boston's lead to nine points against James, Wade, James Jones, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. Garnett was right at the center, literally, with five points to follow up on his seven-point first quarter.
James had yet to score in the first four-plus minutes of the second after a 16-point first frame.
Second quarter, 8:58, Celtics 32-28: The Celtics could not conceivably go any smaller than they were in this second quarter. Garnett shared the floor with Allen, Rondo, Daniels and Dooling in a lineup that clearly put a premium on speed and spreading the floor around Garnett in the post.
That succeeded in getting Garnett decked by three Miami defenders on a layup attempt. Garnett spent several seconds on the ground before climbing slowly to his feet, but only after doing a few push-ups to show he was no worse for the wear.
Somebody hit the deck, and the first one to do so wore green.
End of first quarter, Celtics 30-28: The Celtics needed some input from some unlikely places to keep pace with a red-shot James in the first quarter, and they got them.
Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Pietrus, Garnett and Pierce finished the first quarter on a 5-0 run, sparked by back-to-back buckets by Daniels and Dooling to take the lead at 29-28.
Avery Bradley, slinged out, was at the game wearing a long-sleeve white T-shirt. The injured guard got a hearty cheer from the crowd when he was shown on the video board.
First quarter, 2:05, Heat 28-25: LeBron James did LeBron James things in the first 10 minutes of the ballgame. He had 16 points, two assists and two rebounds and hardly seemed to break a sweat.
The Celtics need to figure some things out if they hope to keep James from going off for 50.
The Celtics got a gift call on one possession and appeared to get hosed on another. Greg Stiemsma got the favorable call on what appeared to be an offensive foul and knocked down one of two free throws, but Mickael Pietrus was the victim of a non-call minutes later when James seemed to grab him on a break.
Win some, lose some, but the Celtics might be getting sick of losing some more than they have won with the officials.
First quarter, 5:48, Celtics 17-16: It did not take long for the officials to draw the ire of the TD Garden crowd. Rajon Rondo posted up the 6-foot-9 Joel Anthony and fell while attempting a reverse layup. The shot missed and fans booed before chanting a word for male cow excrement that cannot be repeated here.
The Celtics' offense looked crisp in the early going, hitting seven of its first 12 shots and committing no turnovers in the first six minutes. Their defensive rotations had some shaky moments, though, with Ronny Turiaf twice getting open under the hoop. The first time Turiaf got an easy dunk. On the second Ray Allen wrapped up Turiaf to send him to the line, where he hit one of two free throws.
Rivers wanted to get Kevin Garnett involved in the offense, and the Celtics were successful at that with Garnett hitting his first three shots.
8:01 p.m.: Doc Rivers and Spoelstra have something in common. Neither is particularly concerned with how the Heat played differently with and without Chris Bosh.
"Honestly, I don't pay much attention to them without him or with him because he's not there," Rivers said in his pregame media availability. "I'm just looking at how they're playing right now, and they're playing terrific. They're moving the ball, they're trusting each other and they're getting everyone involved. Chalmers and Haslem have been terrific. I'm not surprised. LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade are terrific playmakers as well as great scorers, and they're involving other guys."
Bosh will not play, but the usual suspects are ready to go for both teams. The probable starting lineups appear below.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra really likes Chris Bosh. Spoelstra is not sitting around waiting for Bosh's return, though.
For the second straight game, the first question of Spoelstra's pregame media availability regarded whether the Heat forward would play in Game 3. He will not, and Spoelstra reiterated that he has no knowledge or speculation to share about Bosh's return.
"I've probably given you guys too much info, because you've taken it and run with it," Spoelstra said. "His return is indefinite."
Spoelstra was also asked during the roughly three-minute session about the challenge of reintegrating Bosh into the rotation, if and when it happens.
"We'll gladly cross that bridge when we get there," Spoelstra said. "I love you, Chris, but we focus on what we've got around."
So, to recap: Bosh is not playing, but his coach is smitten.
Oh, and Dexter Pittman is back after his suspension, so there is that.
8 a.m. ET:Rajon Rondo could not have been much better in the last game, but he may need to be almost as good for the Celtics to have a shot in this series.
The Eastern Conference Finals turns to Boston, where the Celtics will try to dig into the Miami Heat's 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Not only is Rondo coming off possibly his greatest postseason game ever, Ray Allen is also coming off his strongest game of the series and Kevin Garnett looks to keep rolling after a strong second half in Game 2.
Celtics fans will watch the foul disparity closely, as technical fouls and free throws were big storylines in the first two games. Also, it is safe to say the hometown fans will let the referees know when they think the refs are doing a good job or a bad job.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which is set to tip off at 8:30 p.m.