Small Lineup Works for Celtics, But Kevin Garnett Is Key As Always

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Small Lineup Works for Celtics, But Kevin Garnett Is Key As AlwaysWALTHAM, Mass. — The playoffs are about storylines, and the facts usually have to be tweaked to fit into the narrative.

That is why the story of the Celtics' victory over the Sixers in the last round was about the "Big Three" standing strong one final time, when it was really about two exceptional defenses and even though it is possible that Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen could be back next season. It is why the Spurs' 20-game win streak inspired a resurgence in appreciation for Tim Duncan, even though the Big Fundamental has been used like a role player at times and Tony Parker has arguably been the best player of the entire NBA postseason.

So when Marquis Daniels entered Friday's Game 3 with the Celtics trailing the Miami Heat by three points and the Celtics outscored the Heat, 30-14, over the next 13 minutes, 36 seconds, the storyline would inevitably be about Daniels, the bench and Boston's diminutive lineup.

And that was entirely appropriate, as more than one humble sports writer seized on Daniels' play as a pivotal piece of the Celtics' 101-91 win. With Daniels on the court as part of a small-ball lineup that included Allen, Rajon Rondo, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling or Paul Pierce manning four of the five positions around Garnett in the middle, the Celtics "junked it up defensively" and presented challenges for Miami, according to Heat forward Udonis Haslem.

"We don't come in and focus on scoring," Dooling said. "We have guys that score the basketball. Usually, our contributions come more in the defensive category, or in the energy category. That's just our reality."

Daniels and Dooling were at the forefront of the Celtics' reserve-oriented, undersized attack. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, both they and the team were much better when they were paired with Garnett as opposed to another big man, like Ryan Hollins or Brandon Bass. The Heat barely shot 18 percent from the field in the seven minutes Garnett, Daniels and Dooling teamed up, helping the Celtics outscore Miami by 10 points in those stretches.

In the second and third quarters, when the Celtics were most aggressive going to the guard-heavy unit, Garnett went for 13 points and seven rebounds. With the Heat going small as well, Garnett was able to capitalize on his size advantage in a simple "throw it up" strategy. Still, Rondo emphasized that Garnett's role in the small lineup — with any Boston lineup, in fact — went well beyond the box score.

"It's not just scoring," Rondo said. "Kevin does all the little things. He does all the intangibles defensively. He's our best help defender, he guards the bigs, he's our best communicator. I can go on and on, but we know we definitely need Kevin. Regardless if he's scoring or not, he does so many other things so well."

Garnett probably was just fine with not being the story on Friday. Although he seeks to be respected, he seldom seems to seek credit for his team's success. For much of Garnett's career, he has been the storyline. In Game 3, the storyline was different, but Garnett's impact was no less important.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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