Presented with the challenge of trying to limit either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in Game 3, Celtics coach Doc Rivers chose the later. It made all the difference.
The Heat’s second-round series against the Indiana Pacers turned on Wade’s offensive resurgence. One round later, Wade’s scoring is again the focal point of a tight series. He averaged more than 22 points while attempting 17 free throws in the Heat’s Game 1 and Game 2 victories against the Celtics. On Friday, Wade was limited to 18 points on 9 of 20 shooting and he never went to the foul line.
“It’s no secret,” Wade said. “I’m getting doubled at the top of the key. I’m getting doubled in the paint, so unless I shoot a turnaround jump shot all the time, which is not a good shot for our team, we’re going to have to find other ways to loosen things up.”
With Chris Bosh still out of action with an abdominal strain, the Celtics have had the luxury of committing an extra defender to stopping Wade. Consistent double teams allowed the Celtics to cut off Wade’s driving lanes in Game 3.
“When Chris is on the court, you can’t do that too much,” Wade said.
Other than a fast-break dunk in the second quarter, Wade had just two field goals in the paint in the first half. His lack of production helped the Celtics build 13-point lead entering the third quarter.
On Saturday, a practice day for both the Heat and the Celtics, Wade gave credit to Rivers for “coming up with the scheme” to limit him offensively. He then jokingly said practice days in the postseason are when the Heat’s coaches “get paid big money” and earn “their checks.”
“We look forward to coming in here and listening to what our leader has to say and making adjustments,” Wade said.
Spoelstra acknowledged that the Heat must find ways “of getting [Wade] in the areas where he can be aggressive.”
“Look, we’re trying to win games and Dwyane is a big part of what we do,” Spoelstra said. “He’s got a lot of responsibility on the other end. He’s guarding multiple players.
“We’d like to see if we can get him some easy ones in the open court or some cuts in the post. Maybe some drives on the weak side.”
While Wade’s offensive struggles were the most obvious reasons for the Heat’s regression in Game 3, Spoelstra pointed to the other end of the court — the Heat’s defensive effort — as the most significant factor for the Heat’s loss.
“We probably did enough things offensively,” Spoelstra said. “Even though it wasn’t smooth all the way through, I think we played well enough to give ourselves a chance to win on that end.
“But defensively we were as poor as we’ve been all playoffs. They were able to get probably the easiest buckets they were able to get all playoffs.”
The Celtics had 58 points in the paint, which was the most the Heat has allowed all playoffs and the second most the Heat has allowed all season.
“It was the floodgates at the rim,” Spoelstra said.
In addition to the slashing drives of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, Boston found a way to get Garnett the ball in the post, which had eluded the team in Games 1 and 2. Garnett led the Celtics with 24 points on 10 of 16 shooting.
“He had some deep catches,” Spoelstra said. “We got to meet him with force.”
Udonis Haslem was particularly disappointed with the Heat’s defensive effort. The Celtics shot 50 percent while out-rebounding the Heat 44-32.
“You got to take away something, and I think last night we gave away everything,” Haslem said.
Spoelstra downplayed the Heat’s poor free-throw shooting in Game 3. The Heat was 10 of 20 from the line with Wade failing to attempt a free throw in a playoff game for the first time since his rookie season. James was 1 of 5 from the line and Mario Chalmers was 3 of 6.
“My biggest focus is making sure we get enough free-throw attempts,” Spoelstra said. “We only had 20.”