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The Miami Heat lost Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics because of old bad habits that turn a normally devastating offense into a group of rec league weekend warriors jacking up mindless jump shots. Had Miami played the entire game the way it did the first quarter, the Heat would probably be up 3-0 in the series with a chance to sweep on Sunday. Instead, Miami will try to prevent Boston from equalizing the series.
The difference between the first quarter of Game 3 and the rest of the game was startling. Miami came out attacking early, hoping to tire out Boston with a breakneck pace. The Heat pushed the floor, even after Boston makes, sending long passes down the court to catch the Celtics sleeping in transition defense.
That strategy helped Miami build an early 28-22 lead. Then the wheels fell off. Boston went on a 15-0 run as the Heat slowed down and began settling for long jump shots. LeBron James hit a few of those long jumpers at the end of the Heat's initial run, and decided it would be a good idea to keep chucking up jump shots while the Celtics built a lead.
It did not work, and Boston built up such a huge margin that even an 11-0 Heat run in the fourth quarter could not cut that margin below 8 points. A look at Friday's shot chart shows those long jump shots falling in the first quarter, and missing the hoop in the second and third. By the time Miami started executing on offense in the fourth quarter, it was too late.
This theme, "hero ball" allowing Heat opponents to take control of a game, is not new. This is exactly how the Dallas Mavericks were able to defeat the Heat in the NBA Finals last year.
Staying out of the lane and settling for jump shots not only makes it more difficult to score, but also keeps the Heat off the free throw line. Game 3 was the first game of the series in which Boston drew more trips to the free throw line than Miami.
James and Wade combined for 35 free throw attempts in Game 2, and just 5 in Game 3 (all by James). Because James and Wade are so lethal in the lane, they draw tons of fouls. If they are doing that, it becomes even easier to penetrate, as opposing defenders defend more gingerly when they are worried about fouling out.
Of course, more free throws might not have been a recipe for success for Miami, seeing as the Heat shot 50% from the charity stripe on Friday, but that's a moot point.
Miami will have to do a better job of containing Boston PF Kevin Garnett in Game 4, too. Boston's offensive strategy on Friday was simple. "Throw it up in the air, Kevin will go get it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers described it.
In only 33 minutes of action, Garnett made 10 of 16 shots for 24 points, adding 11 rebounds. Of those 16 attempts, 11 came from within 2 feet of the basket. Miami made it too easy for Garnett to get easy buckets.
This is one area where the Heat miss Chris Bosh the most. In last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals, Garnett was largely held in check by Bosh's defense, only having one good game out of five. Miami has thrown all sorts of defenders at Garnett, including James, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony, but none have been terribly effective.
Garnett is averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds for the series through three games, shooting 50%. Bosh is traveling with the Heat and serving as Garnett on the scout team, but his return for Game 4 is unlikely.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will have to come up with a new trick for defending KG. "We can do some things better in terms of getting him a step further out and trying to disrupt him a little bit on his catches," Spoelstra said Friday night. "But he was able to get in a real comfort zone."
Miami will get a second chance at Garnett and the Celtics on Sunday night at 8:30.