Celtics 101, Heat 91 (MIA leads 2-1)

Many NBA coaches express the same thought about statistics. “If we have to look at the stats after a game to see why we lost, then we should not be coaching,” is a phrase that gets passed through coaching circles frequently.

In Game 3’s Heat-Celtics matchup, however, a few numbers tell most of the game’s tale in a nutshell: +27 and 38 percent, -17 and 84 percent, 25 and 4 all represent a large chunk of the storyline as to why the Celtics saved themselves from the brooms.

+27 represents the Celitics’ +/- when Kevin Garnett plays, and the 38 percent stands for the Heat’s shooting percentage while Garnett is on the floor, with the -17 and 84 percent being when Garnett is off the floor. Twenty-five and 4 stand for the amount of free throws LeBron James shot in Game 2 and in Game 3, respectively. See the major themes here?

Garnett, for lack of better words, controlled every aspect of the game. Rajon Rondo played another great game, but Garnett took control of the contest and refused to see the Celtics staring a 3-0 deficit in the face. His defensive tenacity and offensive assertiveness absolutely befuddled the Heat team to the point of exhaustion, and the Celtics players looked to get Garnett touches as much as possible.

Doc Rivers echoed this statement in the post-game press conference when referring to his message to his players about getting Kevin Garnett the ball. “One of the things we kept telling them was to throw it up. There’s nobody taller than him (Garnett) on the floor. Just throw it up in the air. Kevin will go get it.”

Rivers saw a chink in the Heat armor after Game 2 and decided to exploit it all game. The Celtics “just threw it up” to Garnett in the paint time after time, giving him dozens of chances to score at the rim while guarded by smaller defenders.

Rondo’s phenomenal vision on when to push the ball and when to pull it back played a huge role in Garnett’s big night, but the whole Celtics team in general brought a different attitude to Game 3. Call the Celtics old, aging, or tired, but you can’t call them heartless. They truly have too much pride to fall over and die on their home court, and the Celtics put themselves further from elimination on Friday night.

Give credit to LeBron for having another monster outing. For the second game in a row, the best outstanding performer in the series came away with a loss. LeBron’s statline of 34 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists proved how unguardable he can be.

Dwyane Wade made a few plays down the stretch to keep the Heat in the game, and Mike Miller’s three pointers closed the gap during a Heat run, but the frontcourt provided absolutely zero help for the Heat. Put the blame on the three big men (Ronny Turiaf, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony), but also blame coach Erik Spoestra for playing an incredibly small lineup for long stretches of the game. They spread the floor on offense and got a lot of huge buckets, especially during the late stretch in the fourth, but they flat out could not defend Garnett without any bigs in the game.

The bottom line: The Heat scored 14 points in the second quarter and dug themselves a hole they couldn’t climb out of. The Heat cannot afford to give the Celtics such a big head start, especially to a veteran team at home. The Celtics need to continue to drill the ball into Garnett until the Heat stop them, creating tons of fast break opportunities for Rondo and opening all shooters. If the Heat can’t figure out an answer for Garnett, they better stop the isolation offense and get up and down the floor. —Dave Spahn (@DaveSpahn)