BOSTON - Who knew a change of scenery was all the Boston Celtics needed? Carrying an 0-2 series hole into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday at TD Garden, the Celtics used some (apparently) much-needed home cooking to power themselves past the Miami Heat, 101-91, and cut Miami's lead to 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Sunday night.
"It feels good," said Paul Pierce. "Especially after we felt like we had a chance at Game 2, how we let it slip in our hands, so it's good to come back home and get a quality win."
Three of the Big Four carried the Celtics, with Kevin Garnett totaling 24 points and 11 rebounds, Pierce scoring 23 points and Rajon Rondo amassing 21 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Ray Allen scored ten and both Marquis Daniels (nine points, five rebounds) and Keyon Dooling (seven points) stepped up their game off the bench.
"Our bench tonight played well," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "Marquis [Daniels] was phenomenal tonight. Keyon Dooling was phenomenal. Every guy that came off the bench contributed for our basketball team. And we needed it."
LeBron James led all scorers with 24 points and Dwyane Wade scored 18. Mario Chalmers scored 14 points, including five-straight late in the fourth, and Mike Miller had 11 points off the bench for Miami, which made 39-of-77 shots to shoot 49.4 percent.
"They got us tonight," said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. "We got off to a pretty good start. The reserves came into the game and really knocked us back on our heels."
Most of the first quarter featured toe-to-toe action with each team answering the other's baskets. James owned the quarter, scoring 16 of his team's 30 points but Boston took a 30-28 lead through twelve minutes. Pierce played arguably his best quarter of the series, scoring eight points in the frame and getting the basket practically at will. Rondo struggled from the field, making only 1-of-4 shots and air-balling a straightaway three, making it seem like his shooting touch had gone missing. Both teams shot 60 percent in the quarter, as the Celtics and Heat made a combined 23-of-38 baskets (60.5 percent) in the period.
Boston, which closed out the first quarter on a 9-0 run, continued its hot streak early in the second, scoring the quarter's first seven points to bring its run up to 15-0. Miami would not hit a field goal in the period until James' nine-footer at the 5:57 mark. James finished the quarter with four points and Boston outscored Miami, 25-14, to take a 55-42 halftime lead.
Behind an eight-point quarter from Garnett, the Celtics continued to plug away and pushed their lead past the 20-point plateau six times and entered the fourth with its biggest lead of the game, 85-63, after Pierce hit a quarter-ending trey to stretch the advantage to 22 points.
Miami wasn't done yet, though, as the Heat whittled away at the Celts double-digit advantage and had their deficit trimmed to 11 points after back-to-back threes from Mike Miller. After a driving dunk from Wade made it a double-digit game, with the Celtics on top 91-82, Rivers wisely elected not to call a timeout, and his team responded with back-to-back buckets to make it a 95-82 lead. The Heat still wouldn't quit, and five consecutive points from Chalmers brought Miami back within eight, 95-87, with 3:09 to play. A putback dunk from Wade, sandwiched between two Pierce free throws and a Rondo layup, made it a 99-89, with under two minutes to play, but the Heat couldn't get closer than ten points.
Sunday evening's contest will tip off at 8:30 p.m. EST and will air on ESPN and on WEEI.