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May 10, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
Overtime

by Bradford Doolittle

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Miami 98, at Boston 90, OT (Miami leads series 3-1)
Pace: 85.2
Offensive Ratings: Miami 104.1, Boston 95.6

Did we witness a changing of the guard in Boston last night? The veteran Celtics, fresh off a rousing Game Three performance, seemed prime to even up their second-round series with the Heat. There was intrigue over whether or not injured point guard Rajon Rondo would play, but I think it was kind of assumed that we'd get Boston's best shot on Monday. The scary thing for Celtics faithful is that we might have gotten just that--all that Boston has left to give.

After a subpar performance from its core trio on Saturday, the Heat seemed intent on sinking or swimming with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It's not a bad plan. Those three combined to take 63 of Miami's 79 shots and score 83 of its 98 points. No Miami player other than that trio scored more than four points in the game. Only Mike Bibby took more than two shots. (He took six.) There was no mystery to what the Heat was doing, and Boston did its best to stop it. For the most part, they did an okay job, at least once you consider that the Heat put up just 1.04 points per possession. Even that number seemed a little high, though, given what the Celtics got on the other end.

It was an odd game, where both offenses had to scrape for everything. Without the real Rondo on hand, the Celtics reverted to the kind of high pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops that are better off as secondary options for its offense. On those sets, the ball tends to stick in the hands of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen was running all over the court, rubbing guys off screens and such, but had a hard time popping open. He was most effective cutting off of Miami's overplaying and going to the basket, but like everything else with Boston's offense, he just seemed out of kilter without Rondo to drive and dish with his usual proficiency.

Garnett was a non-entity. One game after playing perhaps his best offensive postseason game as a Celtic, he played perhaps his worst: seven points, 1-of-10 from the field. Yes, as you'd imagine, a big part of the problem was his near refusal to work for position in the paint. And, it occurred to me, perhaps he just didn't have the energy or lift to do it. I have to remind myself: These guys are old. They're also talented and ultra-competitive, and the Celtics stayed in the game by hitting just enough big shots to stay close. Pierce scored 27 points and made liberal use of his step-back jumper.

In the first half, the focus was on Rondo, who was favoring the bad elbow, but still taking the ball inside. Miami attempted to pressure his right hand, but he used the left just enough. Miami was turning the ball over by trying to force interior passes and the Celtics went on an early run by pushing ball up the floor. Bosh started 1-of-6, with Garnett again poised to take him completely out of the game, and Garnett even got into the lane and hit a couple of early free throws.

The game before halftime was largely a mano y mano contest between James and Pierce. It was a close battle early on, but James pulled away as the half progressed, finishing with 20 points before the break. Miami overplayed the passing lanes, keeping Rondo from creating and dictating the offense. Boston was up 53-50 at the half, and I made a note that it was crucial for the Celtics to avoid an early third-quarter run by the Heat.

Boston did avoid that big run, but wasn't able to build on its lead, either. Pierce and James temporarily slid into the background as the defenses hunkered down in the third. By that point, Garnett's absence in the lane and Pierce's incessant dribbling were making me insane. Not just me, either. There was a play when Miami had a player slow to get back and Delonte West spotted up uncovered at the three-point line while Pierce pounded and pounded and pounded. The exasperated West started jumping up and down and waving his arms, but by then it was too late.

The offenses didn't perk up much once the fourth quarter began, combining to go 1-of-13 from the field in the first five minutes of the period, though the Heat did get into the penalty fairly early. That was key, as the eight points Miami got from the foul line helped offset its 25 percent shooting from the floor. Both teams went small, but there was still no tempo to the game whatsoever. Boston got three-pointers on back-to-back possessions from West and Allen, both off of early offense and both off great ball reversal. James answered with a huge three right in front of the Boston bench and with Pierce in his face. Rondo missed a key layup after taking a handoff from Garnett.

With neither team scoring much, the game obviously stayed close and Boston had the last shot in regulation with the game tied. Pierce held the ball out top--too long--waiting for Garnett to roll out for a screen. However, Garnett and Allen got tangled up on the play and the screen never came. Pierce, who prefers to go right, took a couple of dribbles to his left and missed a forced three as time expired.

In overtime, with Rondo out of the game, the Celtics had a hard time even getting a shot. Boston turned the ball over four times in the extra session, leading to five Miami points. Boston had just four points in the entire overtime--a Pierce field goal and two Garnett free throws. The game was sealed when Garnett popped out to guard James out top. He got the stop, but no one was underneath to block out Bosh, who tipped in the miss to cap a 20-point, 12-rebound performance. Just like that, the Heat had seized a 3-1 lead heading back to Miami for Wednesday's Game Five.

To illustrate how out of sorts the offenses were in the game, consider this: Miami had just 10 assists on its 35 field goals and won the game. (Boston had 15 on 30.) Miami actually didn't run an excessive amount of isolation plays, at least according to Synergy Sports Technologies. The Heat ran isos on 10.2 percent of its possessions on Monday, less than its series mark of 15.1 percent. James has been the shooter on half of Miami's isolations in the series, 3/4 quarters of them on Monday. He hasn't been great working one-on-one, part of the reason he shot just 12-of-28 in Monday's game.

There were two keys to the Celtics' demise and they are related: rebounding and Garnett. Miami outrebounded Boston 45-28, grabbing 10 of 35 offensive rebound chances and holding the Celtics to 3-of-38 on the other end. Miami had 10 second-chance points in the game; Boston had zero. We know that Boston is not an offensive rebounding team, but in its Game Three win, offensive rebounding played a big part. Garnett had 28 points and 18 rebounds in that game. On Monday, he had 10 rebounds, all on the defensive end. The extent to which Garnett was outplayed by Bosh was the difference in the game insofar as it's hard to quantify how much less Rondo produced because of his injury.

Will we see a Lakers-like laydown when the Celtics come out in hostile territory on Wednesday? One would hope not, and I don't expect it. At the same time, Garnett looked old at times on Monday and it's hard telling what his energy level is going to be like from game to game. Rondo looked old, too, even though he's not. Playing with a bad wing will do that to a player. Boston is clearly on the ropes, but I'm not going to be the one to count them out of anything. Miami would do well to finish the Celtics off while they have them down, then sit back and wait for someone to emerge in the Chicago-Atlanta series.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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