Saturday night saw the Celtics jump in the old time machine in order to to beat the Miami Heat 97-81 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Kevin Garnett looked like his MVP self from Minnesota (or at least like his 2008, first year in Boston self) in exploding for 28 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 18 rebounds while also silencing the softer than tissue Chris Bosh. Paul Pierce, lethargic in Games 1 and 2, also busted out with 27 points and the kind of ferocious defense on LeBron James that Celtics fans had become accustomed to seeing in previous postseasons. Even Shaquille O'Neal actually suited up and played although, he looked less like his former self and more like himself 50 years into the future. But we digress. The point is, the Celtics needed Game 3 and they needed a vintage, '08-'10 like showing to get it, so they went out and did just that.
Game 4, Monday night at 7 p.m. EDT, on TNT will require more of the same. The question is, will the C's, advanced in age as they are, be able to bring the same kind of old school fire, toughness and swagger on only one day's rest?
Of course, health is crucial. Rajon Rondo, who's horrific elbow injury in Game 3 seemed to suggest he'd be out of action for some time, returned just minutes later and single-handedly (no pun intended) fired up the Celts down the stretch. His chief backup, Delonte West, who has been immense in this series, particularly in Game 3, suffered a bruised shoulder and is also pretty banged up, but both are expected to play on Monday night after tests on Rondo's injury on Sunday all came back negative. Rondo, as Celtics fans know, is the most crucial cog in the Celtics offensive engine and his presence, along with the heart he showed in coming back so quickly on Saturday after such a gruesome seeming injury, should propel the C's, at least for as long as he's able to go.
James, who teamed with Dwyane Wade to torch the Celts in Games 1 and 2 down in Miami, was held to just 15 points in Game 3, which along with Bosh's virtual no-show (six points, four rebounds in 30 minutes) gave the Heat's Big Three just 44 points total in the loss, their lowest combined total all season. The Celtics would be wise to devote as much energy on the defensive end to getting another game like that out of Wade, James and Bosh if they want to go back to South Beach for Wednesday's Game 5 locked up at 2-2 instead of down 3-1.
On a side note, both Garnett and Rondo were named to the NBA's All-Defensive Team on Monday. Rondo finished with the second most votes of anyone named to the team with 16 first-team votes and seven second-team votes, trailing only Orlando's Dwight Howard. Garnett, James and the Lakers Kobe Bryant were the other three players voted to the first team.