had 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in Brooklyn's Game 3 win. (Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN -- If "Andray Blatche" is the answer, chances are the question was a joke.
Blatche is the type of basketball player that makes coaches gray early. The type that can go from brilliant to baffling in the drop of basketball. The type with all the talent in the world and all the excuses not to use it. The type to show enough potential to be designated a building block of a rebuilding team -- only to be designated as an amnesty player two years later.
Half magnificent, half maniacal. You're never quite sure what version of Blatche you're getting until he's inserted into the game.
In Game 2 against the Heat, Blatche went scoreless in four minutes. In Game 3, he had 15 points and 10 rebounds and powered the Nets' season-saving 104-90 victory, helping Brooklyn cut its deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinal to 2-1.
If I had told you "Andray Blatche" was going to be the difference Saturday, I would have only done so behind muffled laughter and a snarky grin. But Blatche's mesmerizing play off the bench in Game 3 forced us to stop laughing at the precarious big man -- and start laughing with him.
You couldn't help but chuckle at some of Blatche's antics Saturday -- even the good ones. He crossed over Chris Bosh in the post and scored on a nifty scoop shot. He busted out the "Dream Shake" in the second quarter and drew a foul (despite taking a "handful" of steps). He had a few choice words for LeBron James after one score. And a heat check from 20 feet after another. He used his big 6-foot-10 frame to dominate the paint in a series that's been dominated by small ball. And most importantly, he gave the Nets a desperate influx of offense after they fell flat in South Beach.
"The big thing about this team is that we trust everyone," said Nets coach Jason Kidd. "And when you look at Dray and what Mirza (Teletovic) did for us off the bench was big."
After pouring in 20 points in Game 2, Teletovic's hot hand carried into Game 3, scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from deep. Even more impressive, the shooting specialist did an admirable job of defending LeBron, a feat even more miraculous than Blatche taking over Game 3.
It was a strange defensive assignment in a game littered with strange lineups. Down 0-2, Kidd shook up his rotation drastically in hopes of finding something that worked. After receiving a DNP-CD on Thursday, Andrei Kirilenko played 19 minutes Saturday, doing everything from guarding Dwyane Wade to playing center in one of Brooklyn's most extreme lineups. Mason Plumlee played all of just two minutes. Marcus Thornton, who averaged almost 20 minutes per night in the Nets' first two games against the Heat, played just six Saturday.
Was there a method to Kidd's madness or was he just throwing things at wall hoping something would stick? Either way, it worked.
"You're not going to surprise the champs," Kidd said. "They've seen everything."
On Saturday, they saw the Nets team that swept their season series 4-0, not the one that rolled over twice in South Beach.
The Nets hit 15 three-pointers in Game 3 and had 26 assists on 38 baskets. They got another strong effort from Joe Johnson (19 points on 7-of-10 shooting) and respectable ones from Paul Pierce (14 points) and Kevin Garnett (10 points, seven rebounds), which is all they can ask for at the advanced stages of their careers. They outrebounded the Heat 43-27 and their bench outscored Miami's 40-16. They used a huge third quarter (26-14) to pull away and they expertly staved off the Heat's finally rally in the fourth.
"They simply outplayed us," LeBron said.
After cruising through the first six games of the postseason, Miami finally hit its first wall of resistance in Brooklyn. The first quarter appeared to offer more of the same with LeBron scoring 16 points (his most of any quarter this postseason) and hitting 6-of-7 shots. Brooklyn, to its credit, trailed by just one point after the period thanks to a Shaun Livingston 40-footer at the buzzer, but this looked like one of those nights when LeBron's dominance was more inevitable than preventable.
How good was LeBron in that opening period? He could have put his head down and scored on the '85 Bears. On one play, he drove to the hoop, beat two defenders then had Paul Pierce attempt to drag him down by the shoulder -- resulting in flagrant foul -- and LeBron STILL scored. I mean, who scores on a flagrant foul?
LeBron does. Which is what made his disappearing act the rest of the game that much odder.
He attempted just one shot in the second quarter. Brooklyn's defense adjusted accordingly after being burned in the opening frame and LeBron looked disinterested in challenging in. We've seen the Heat win countless games without LeBron scoring a a bevy of points. In Miami's first two games this series he scored 22 points in each victory. But his 28 points in Game 3 could have been 40. Sometimes it almost seems as if LeBron is trying to prove he can without putting up Durant-like numbers. But sometimes that passiveness goes too far. When you're the best player on the planet, sometimes you need to be selfish. Sometimes you don't pass to Norris Cole or James Jones even though they're open. Sometimes you just take over, block everything else out, and score at all costs.
We didn't see that from LeBron in Game 3. Strangely, we saw it from Blatche. After looking immune to the competition in the first six games of the postseason, the Heat showed their first signs of weakness in Game 3.
It was the type of game that left you shaking your head leaving the arena, wondering where these versions of Miami and Brooklyn had been in the first two games. Saturday was a game in part won by Andray Blatche and in part lost by LeBron James.
If that's not enough to make you laugh, I don't know what is.
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