|Will Game 3 see another parade to the free throw line for LeBron James? (Getty Images)|
Previewing Game 3 between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
1. Where We're At: The Miami Heat lead the series 2-0 as play returns to Boston for Game 3. The Heat looked fast and fierce in a low-scoring Game 1 and they won a high-scoring overtime thriller in Game 2 by gutting out an ugly overtime thriller. The Celtics looked a step slow in Game 1 but rode a sensational all-around, history-making performance from Rajon Rondo to push the Heat to the brink. As with any Game 3 at home down 2-0 against a favored opponent, Friday night is Boston's season. Drop it and the brooms could be coming out to abruptly end the season on Sunday night. Win it and live to fight at least two more battles.
2. The Big Number: 24. After the dust settled on Rajon Rondo's 44 points in 53 minutes performance, the post-game chatter has turned to the issue of foul shots. Namely, that the 24 free throws attempted by James in Game 2 were way, way too many. Celtics coach Doc Rivers raised the issue multiple times. First, in his post-game comments, when he noted that James took nearly as many free throws as his entire team (29). Then, during a Thursday press conference, he dismissed the prevailing counter-argument that James (and Dwyane Wade) shoot more free throws becaues they attack the basket with greater aggression and regularity than Boston's aging perimeter players. "I think Paul Pierce attacked just as much as LeBron James," Rivers said. "I'll leave it at that." Pierce finished with 6 free throw attempts.
3. Key Adjustment: The Celtics succeeded in making a number of successful strategic adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2. They pressured Wade much more successfully. They made James work for his points. They got better production on offense from both Pierce and guard Ray Allen, who has been dealing with an ankle injury. The biggest Game 3 adjustment will really be the locale. Boston was 24-9 at home during the regular season and are 6-1 at home during the playoffs. The Celtics beat the Heat by 19 points at TD Garden in April with Rondo leading the way with a triple-double.
4. The Big Story: Do the Celtics have enough left in the tank? In addition to Rondo playing all 53 minutes on Wednesday, Garnett, Pierce and Allen all played 43+ minutes. Boston's starters have been carrying a massive load because of injuries; Given that Rondo can't possibly repeat his Game 2 performance, who steps up to help keep Boston close? Production from their big men would be helpful. Garnett finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds on 6-for-18 shooting and just didn't have the impact we're used to seeing. He's had off nights in all three round of the playoffs now, and has generally responded well. Getting more offense from Brandon Bass would be a huge X-factor too. Bass had 8 points on 4-for-11 shooting in Game 1 and then 8 points on 2-for-4 shooting in Game 2. He needs to get more involved: Boston is 5-3 when he scores in double figures during the postseason and 3-4 when he doesn't. Not overwhelming numbers there but they can certainly use more from him given the load carried by the Big 4 on Wednesday and the every-other-day schedule that would seem to favor a younger, deeper and more well-rested Heat team.
5. The Facts: 8:30 p.m. ET tipoff on Friday at TD Garden. Ray Allen (ankle) is expected to play after chatter earlier in the series that he might need some time off. Chris Bosh (abdominal injury) will travel to Boston but will not play.