|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2012||[Print without images]|
BOSTON -- Dressed in a suit jacket and slacks, Chris Bosh stood and greeted each one of his defeated Miami Heat teammates as they walked off the court Friday following one of their worst performances of the postseason.
Other than extending a few high-fives and fist-bumps, there wasn't much else the ailing All-Star forward could do.
On a night when the Boston Celtics were determined to hit the Heat literally where they're hurting by pounding the ball inside to Kevin Garnett, Miami had no options to counter. For the previous five games, the Heat were able to overcome their lack of reliable depth inside the paint.
But for the first time since Bosh went down with the strained abdominal muscle he sustained in Game 1 of the previous series against the Indiana Pacers, Miami played like it completely missed its most effective interior player.
Behind 24 points and 11 rebounds from Garnett, the Celtics exploited their biggest matchup advantage to build as large as a 24-point lead en route to a 101-91 victory in Game 3. Boston looks to tie the series at 2-2 with another victory at home Sunday in Game 4. And if they don't see Bosh on the court in a sooner-than-expected return from his injury rehab, expect the Celtics to attack Miami the same way.
"He played great. They established him deep in the paint," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game as he already started to plot ways to better contain Garnett in Game 4. "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. But he was able to get in a real comfort zone."
That comfort zone was established in the second quarter, when the Heat repeatedly struggled to prevent Garnett from catching the ball in the paint and directly at the basket. Miami tried to front him with Udonis Haslem. They attempted to muscle him out the lane with LeBron James. The Heat even tried to harass and frustrate him with Ronny Turiaf hounding him the length of the court before he could set up to get position around the basket.
But regardless of the variety of defenders the Heat put on Garnett, there was no getting around a sobering reality.
"One of the things we kept telling them, at the end of the day, 'Throw it up,'" Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the simple strategy he implored his team to carry out. "There's nobody taller than [Garnett] on the floor; throw it up in the air, Kevin will go get it."
At 6-foot-11, Garnett converted a series of lobs for dunks and layups. The easy baskets allowed the Celtics to outscore Miami 58-46 in the paint and win the rebounding battle by 12 boards. It's not exactly like the Celtics discovered Bosh wasn't on the court all of a sudden. But Rivers said his team didn't take full advantage of the opportunities to establish Garnett inside during the first two games in Miami.
The question facing the Heat now is, how will they respond Sunday? Among the answers could be to utilize seldom-used center Dexter Pittman, who became available in Game 3 after serving a three-game suspension for a flagrant foul he committed in the Indiana series. But Pittman lacks the experience and quickness to keep up with Garnett.
Beyond Turiaf, Pittman and Joel Anthony, the Heat also have Eddy Curry on the roster, although the veteran has played sparingly this season and remains far more of a long-range project than a stop-gap prospect at center.
So then comes Bosh, who has gone through five workouts that have included basketball-related drills this week in his attempt to eventually return to action. After indicating Thursday that it was "too early" to speculate when Bosh might be available to play, Spoelstra declined before Friday's game to rule him out of the mix for Game 4.
The Heat still consider Bosh out indefinitely. That status could change quickly, although Spoelstra has given essentially no indication that he's even close to being ready.
Heat forward LeBron James went a step further by saying after Friday's game that the team isn't preparing as if Bosh would be on the court for Game 4, and that other methods must be found to offset Garnett's effectiveness in the lane.
"We don't know when Chris will be back," James said after finishing with a game-high 34 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks during a 43-minute stint that included extended time at center. "We're not going into next game hoping that he's going to be there, or whatever the case may be. We have to prepare like he's not playing."
Even with Bosh, the Heat have had a difficult time defending the inside-outside action of Garnett and point guard Rajon Rondo. Bosh, who has averaged 18 points and 7.9 rebounds, has had problems matching up with Garnett.
But the balance and scoring Bosh brings to the floor makes it easier for James and Dwyane Wade to drive and find openings in the defense. Boston's defense was able to disrupt Wade's rhythm by committing a second defender.
James and Wade could have used a bit more relief. It might still be too soon to expect Bosh to provide it by Sunday. The Heat were able to absorb 44 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds from Rondo to beat the Celtics in Game 2.
Garnett proved to be a larger-than-life challenge on Friday.
"It's something we have to watch on film to figure out," Heat guard Mario Chalmers said of disrupting Rondo and Garnett. "Right now, it's hard to say. KG is a big guy, 7-footer. And then when he gets in the paint and extends his arms, he goes to 7-6. We have to stick to our plan, not worry about him or let him get in our heads."