BOSTON -- Of course the Heat are looking ahead. It is with no disrespect to the Celtics that Miami will aim to tighten its play and win at least one of the long weekend's two games in Boston.
The Heat have been watching the torrid series between the Spurs and Thunder with the understanding that they must raise their own game in order to avoid a repeat of last year's Finals, when the most talented individuals lost to the superior team. They go into Game 3 bracing for the Celtics to defend their home court, the kind of test Miami needs to endure on its way to potentially winning a championship. The Heat need to be pushed in order to explore their potential, whether Chris Bosh returns or not.
"They'll learn from [Game 2] and come out of it with a fresh mind knowing they have two in Boston,'' said Dwyane Wade of the Celtics' homecoming. "We know we are going to get this team's best shot. [In Game 2] they gave us a great shot, and we were able to win on our home floor. If they give us that same effort, can we pull it off and win this kind of game on the road? [That would] be a testament to this team.''
The Celtics were discouraged after losing Game 2, 115-111, in spite of a spectacular 44-point, 10-assist and eight-rebound effort from point guard Rajon Rondo. Within an hour of that loss, coach Doc Rivers insisted that his Celtics avoid pitying themselves as victims of officiating, instead focusing on the areas that they need to improve.
"We have to get more guys involved,'' said Rivers. "I've got to do a better job of getting Kevin [Garnett] the ball in the right spots. I didn't think the entire night we did a good job at that. We had a lot of points, but I thought we still had a lot of empty possessions.''
This promises to be a crucial game for Wade and LeBron James, who saw what Rondo did for his Celtics on the road. Now Miami will look to Wade and James for that same kind of all-out showing. "Rondo was absolutely amazing,'' said James. "The performance he put on will go down in the record books. He played the whole game, he made all the plays and tried to will his team to a victory. He's a unique player. He's an unbelievable player. He gave everything that he had.''
Rondo set a standard of leadership that James, in particular, must try to equal and surpass. It wasn't as if James didn't do his job in Game 2. He was crucial to Miami's comeback by attacking the basket, steadily accruing free throws for 18 of his 34 points and fouling out Paul Pierce in the final minute of regulation. The outcome might have been different had Pierce been available in OT.
"He made winning plays,'' said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra of James' work down the stretch, when he created second-chance points and guarded Rondo. "He missed a couple of free throws, and yet still had an impact. That loose ball down in our end, a couple of plays keeping the ball alive on the offensive end, drawing fouls, the 24 free throw attempts. He made winning plays down the stretch guarding a guy who had an incredible night. That's what it's about. It's about finding a different way to win, especially against a team like this.''
The Celtics succeeded in limiting Wade by attacking him in the pick and roll. The easy response for Miami would be to go one-on-one, but the Heat realize that those kinds of plays can't take them all the way. "There's parts of the games where you have iso ball, but it's not what we want to do,'' said James. "We don't want high doses of that. We want to continue to work our habits, continue to do what we've been doing over the course of the season. If the pick and roll blows up, we have to get the ball from one side to another and not try to force anything.''
"I've been trying to be patient,'' said Wade, who finished with 23 points in Game 2. "They are playing me on my pick and rolls, they are blitzing me a lot, making sure they stay on it. So instead of me jacking up a shot or trying to do something to get a turnover, I've been trying to get off the ball until my time comes, until I have my opportunities.''
Can the Heat do unto Rondo what he did to them? So long as the big minutes of Wednesday didn't deplete them of their energy, the Celtics are likely to force James and Wade to compete to their maximum. Not much is riding on the outcome, apart from the potential of an eventual championship.