Can Boston Celtics win Game 3?
5-on-5: Five questions heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals
The Miami Heat withstood a strong challenge from the Boston Celtics in Game 2. Can the C's bounce back at home and win Game 3 (ESPN and WatchESPN.com, 8:30 p.m. ET)?
Let's go 5-on-5, Fact or Fiction style:
1. Fact or Fiction: When he plays with the kind of determination he showed in Game 2, Rajon Rondo is a top-three NBA point guard.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Fact. When Rondo is in takeover mode, he's as impactful as any player in the league (regardless of position). Saving his best ball for the biggest stage, who else has triple-double expectations on a nightly basis? Despite the consistency issues, Rondo is clearly among the most talented PGs in the league.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Fiction. Determination has a lot to do with Game 2's performance, but I'd put more weight in his metamorphosis into Ray Allen as a shooter. Rondo, who has always struggled as a shooter, nailed 10 shots outside the paint Wednesday, which is simply remarkable. The only thing holding him back from being a top-three point guard was his shot, and for one game it was his deadliest weapon.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Fact. When he plays like that, absolutely. Top-three player in the league isn't out of the question. But that could wind up being Rondo's best performance when his career ultimately ends. Enjoy the moment. Because if you try to go back and look for that type of shooting performance (16-for-24 overall, 10-for-12 from 16 feet and out), you'll surely be greeted by an old usher who will tell you that Rondo's shot has been dead for 26 years.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Fact. No question about it, Rondo's there when he plays like he did in Game 2. But that also was a historical performance, so it's tough to expect anywhere near that type of production each night. That said, he's right there with Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose in terms of his ability to impact a game in such a major way on a regular basis.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. I should recuse myself from this question because I always think Rondo is a top-three point guard. I honestly wouldn't have traded Rondo for Chris Paul. I know his inconsistencies in his play and his attitude drive the Celtics to the edge -- both teammates and management. But to me he's been the most important player on Boston's roster for two years, and we're talking about a roster with three Hall of Famers.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Heat were lucky to win Game 2.
Forsberg: Fact. Let's face it, with Rondo's monster effort, Boston should have been up by more than seven at halftime but took its foot off the accelerator (particularly on defense). That said, if Miami makes its free throws, then that game probably doesn't even need overtime for the Heat to emerge given their second-half aggression going at the basket.
Haberstroh: Fact. They were terrible from the free throw line and barely got anything out of Dwyane Wade until after halftime. And the referees? Many borderline calls went Miami's way, but I've long felt that refereeing is a crutch. There were plenty of opportunities for the Celtics to win Game 2, but it's hard to do so when Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combine for 2-for-10 from downtown. Even so, Miami won by the skin of its teeth.
Verrier: Fiction. I don't believe in luck. (David Milch's "Luck," on the other hand? That I can get behind.) The Heat certainly left the door open with several late slipups, and were the benefactors of that now-infamous late no-call, but you hire two transcendent superstars in order to overcome such human errors. Any player with any sort of #podiumgame game will tell you the team that makes the most plays wins.
Wallace: Fiction. In the grand scheme of things, it was a home game for Miami, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining to take 35 free throws. Hard to beat that formula, regardless of how well the opposing team is playing that night. Had the Heat made a few of those free throws they missed down the stretch, luck wouldn't even be in the discussion as part of the OT win.
Windhorst: Fiction. They won it because they were very aggressive in the second half and because they are deeper and healthier than the Celtics at the moment. They got the benefit of two calls that were more impactful than you'd want as a purist, but saying they won with luck is a bit of an insult to what LeBron and Wade did.
3. Fact or Fiction: The free throw disparity is a legitimate issue.
Forsberg: Fiction. When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade attacking the hoop on a consistent basis, you're going to shoot a lot of free throws. The Heat are aggressive going at the rim; Boston prefers to shoot jumpers. If the Celtics had won Game 2, would their fans be bellyaching as much as they are now?
Haberstroh: Fiction. One of the great fallacies in basketball analysis is pointing to the free throw column as proof of crooked officiating. That's no different than pointing to a baseball umpire calling more strikes for one team than the other; pitchers control that too. LeBron accumulated all those free throws because he attacked the basket relentlessly; I can't say the same for Paul Pierce.
Verrier: Fiction. I'm not one to harp on officiating, but it sure is tough not to wince when you look at that 18-shot gap in Game 2 free throws, especially since Miami had only one more attempt at the rim. But the Heat finished with just two more freebies the previous game. Let's shuffle up the officiating crew and hopefully move on.
Wallace: Fact. But not from the standpoint of James and Wade being able to get to the line almost at will. I think Boston's main issue is that the Heat just don't seem to be committing fouls. James and Wade attack the basket and create contact better than any duo in the league. But if there's a point to be made about any disparity, it's that they're rarely in foul trouble. That's not uncommon with superstars, but it gets noticed a bit more in the playoffs.
Windhorst: Fiction. The Knicks were angry, then the Pacers, and now the Celtics. How many more series must be played before it can be understood that having Wade and LeBron translates to a free throw advantage? If you'll notice, they end up on the court an awful lot during the game. I do agree that the Celtics had to deal with a few calls that were suspect. But they were a high foul team for 66 games in the regular season and the previous games in the playoffs.
4. Fact or Fiction: Age and injuries matter more than talent in this series.
Forsberg: Fiction. In a make-believe world where both teams are completely healthy, Miami still has the most talented players. That said, you can't help wondering how Boston would look if Ray Allen's ankle, Paul Pierce's knee and Avery Bradley's shoulder were all 100 percent (and if Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox never endured heart issues). A healthy Boston team might have thrived based on its now-depleted depth.
Haberstroh: Fiction. All else being equal, Miami's star talent would have given it the edge in this series anyway. The injuries to Avery Bradley and Ray Allen have hamstrung the Celtics just as much as the Chris Bosh injury to the Heat, there's no doubt. But at the end of the day, the Heat should prevail because they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- and the Celtics don't.
Verrier: Fiction. It's a shame that neither team is at full strength. Games like the last one remind you to savor these Celtics-Heat matchups; with Derrick Rose returning and a C's foundation built on tender limbs able to fall apart without much notice, who knows whether we'll get another series with these current incarnations again? But even when everyone's available, Miami has the two best players on the court most nights. That'll always be the difference.
Wallace: Fiction. Talent is winning out in this series so far. The injuries essentially cancel out, with Miami missing Bosh and Boston missing Avery Bradley and also dealing with Ray Allen's significant ankle injury. What this comes down to is that Miami has the two best players on the court, who happen to be healthy and in the prime of their careers. That's the difference right now.
Windhorst: Fiction. Talent always means the most. Then coaching. The age and injuries have removed the Celtics' margin of error, though, and that's significant
5. Fact or Fiction: The C's will take Game 3.
Forsberg: Fact. The notion that Boston will struggle to get past a heartbreaking Game 2 loss is laughable. The Celtics have no other choice. They are fighting for their season and being back at TD Garden should help them steal Game 3. Miami still wins this series (maybe as quick as five games), but Boston makes things interesting for the weekend.
Haberstroh: Fact. And that's all they'll get in this series, I'm afraid. The Celtics are 6-1 at home and 2-6 on the road thus far in the playoffs so I expect them to steal a game at TD Garden on some hot shooting alone. Unless Rondo's a superhero who doesn't suffer from fatigue, the C's can't expect an encore from him in Game 3. It's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's turn to lead the way.
Verrier: Fact. It's hard to imagine the Celtics, in their current nicked-up state, playing any better than they did in Game 2. But I'm still waiting for Boston to muster some semblance of the defensive force they were with Avery Bradley zipping around and pestering ball-handlers. Their first shot at the Heat at home, where they played much better in the regular season, may effectively be the C's last chance to do it.
Wallace: Fiction. This is more of a probability answer for me. If you get 44 points from Rondo, decent production from Pierce, a relentless effort from Garnett and a clutch 3-pointer late in the game from Allen and still don't come away with a victory, what else can you really do? If Boston really wants to make this a series, we'll find out tonight. But Miami's got the Celtics' number.
Windhorst: Fact. They're at home, they're still confident, they'll get some calls they didn't get in Miami.