By Barry Jackson, McClatchy Newspapers –
The second game of the Eastern Conference finals gave us high drama and wonderful theatre, the biggest Heat comeback in playoff history and a remarkable performance by the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo.
Game 3 on Friday will give us, at the very least, answers to the most pertinent remaining questions: Can the proud, feisty Celtics, with their tired legs, muster enough on their home court to make this a long series?
Or was Wednesday the best the Celtics can offer, and is the Heat now poised to seize an insurmountable 3-0 series lead?
“We know we are going to get this team’s best shot,” Dwyane Wade said.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday’s 115-111 overtime loss, in which the Heat rallied from 15 down, was beneficial in this sense: “Our guys know now we can play. We needed that type of game. Our guys are very confident going into Game 3.”
Among the emerging story lines:
— Rondo, and how to stop him. “I have no idea,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’ll be honest. We’ve tried almost everything.”
Rondo’s numbers (44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds) were unmatched in NBA playoff history, according to Elias.
Spoelstra said Thursday he is not inclined to use LeBron James or Wade exclusively on Rondo, and instead will continue with a combination of James, Wade, heavy doses of Mario Chalmers and others. “You can’t,” Spoelstra said. “He deserves the respect of multiple things.”
The Heat, like most teams, gives Rondo space on his jumper, hoping that deters him from penetrating. “He’s most dangerous getting to the paint,” Spoelstra said. “But you don’t want to give him free-throw line jump shots. We never want to give up that many wide open opportunities and rhythm jump shots.”
Rondo this season shot 39 percent from 16 to 23 feet and 35.7 percent on three-pointers. In Game 2, he shot 10 for 12 from 15 feet or beyond.
“Rondo took what they gave him,” Rivers said. “If they gave him the elbow jumper, he took it. If they got up on him, he drove. … His game wasn’t predetermined.”
— The chess game with Wade and James. Wade has averaged 30.2 points and shot 54.9 percent in 12 playoff games against Boston, but it didn’t come easily Wednesday. Boston used traps to double-team him during the first half, when he scored five points and missed 5 of 6 shots. But Wade shot 7 of 9 after intermission, scoring 14 in the third, none in the fourth but eight in overtime.
“We took the ball out of his hands, made him be a passer,” Rivers said. “I love the game plan. We just didn’t follow through with it in the second half as well as the first.”
Celtics forward Paul Pierce said after halftime, the Heat “did a good job of isolating Wade on the wing and getting him in one-on-one situations at the mid-post.”
Wade, on the winning side of 61 of his 100 Heat playoff games, said: “I’ve been trying to be patient. They are playing me on my pick-and-rolls, blitzing me a lot. So instead of me jacking up a shot or trying to do something to get a turnover, I’ve been trying to get off the ball until my time comes. In the third quarter, I tried to be aggressive when I had my one-on-one opportunities. I’m making the right adjustments.”
James shot 3 of 9 in the first half and closed 7 for 20 but made 18 free throws and finished with 34 points.
“We changed our pick and roll coverage, and we kept someone in front of him all the time,” Rivers said. “In the second half, we got away from that.”
— Fouls. The Celtics were charged with far more than the Heat on Wednesday (33 to 18). Afterward, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge politely but firmly made his case to Joe Borgia, the NBA’s vice president of referee operations. According to Yahoo!, Borgia told Ainge, “I’m sure we missed five or six calls somewhere.”
Replays showed Wade hit Rondo in the face as he drove and missed a layup with the score tied at 105 and 1:35 left in overtime. No foul was called, and Udonis Haslem followed with a dunk in transition. “It was obvious,” Rondo said of the contact.
Rivers noted Boston shot just five more free throws than James (29 to 24) and said Pierce (5 for 6 from the line) “attacked just as much as LeBron attacked. I’ll leave it at that.”
Is it frustrating for the Heat when opposing coaches talk about the free-throw disparity? “We don’t buy into that,” Spoelstra said. “We’re going to attack. Everyone knows how we want to play. We’re a league leader in free throw attempts for a reason.”
But the Heat shot just 31 for 47 from the line, Boston 26 of 29. “We work on it,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t think it’s something we’re going to over-emphasize.”