From here on out the postseason stakes will surge. We have another huge night of playoff basketball on TNT to start the week. First up, the defending Eastern Conference Champion Celtics will try to even the semifinals series against the talent-packed Miami Heat at two games apiece. The Celts played an outstanding Game 3 at the TD Garden on Saturday and came away with their 11th consecutive win over the Heat at home (97-81) to cut Miami’s lead to 2-1. Boston must again capitalize on their home-court advantage and win Game 4 to turn this into a best of three series. If the Celtics lose, the Heat will return to Miami for Game 5 with a virtually insurmountable 3-1 advantage.
Everyone is anxious to see if Rajon Rondo (who has been struggling with a sore back and left foot sprain) will be able to give the Celtics any minutes after dislocating his elbow in the third quarter of Game 3. So much revolves around Rondo being aggressive and attacking the lane for the Boston Celtics. All of the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Allen and Garnett must find ways to score against the Heat’s outstanding defense. Any minutes Shaq can contribute will be a big help to the Celts in handling the Heat’s front line.
The Miami Heat is a younger, more athletic team. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade led the Heat to a two games to none run to start the series. But the Celtics limited LeBron to 15 points on Saturday. And Miami needs more out of Chris Bosh. He’ll have to do a better job defending Garnett and contributing at the offensive end of the floor.
Down two games to one in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the same must-win situation as the Celtics. The Thunder blew a big opportunity to take the lead in this series on Saturday. Instead they gave away Game 3 to the Grizzlies in an overtime heartbreaker. OKC dominated most of the game, leading by as many as 16 points late in the third quarter. But little by little they let the Grizzlies work their way back into the game and push it to OT. The Thunder have to get Kevin Durant going on offense earlier in Game 4. And Westbrook has to do a much better job with his shot selections. The keys tonight for OKC are Durant attacking the basket aggressively, Westbrook becoming a better distributor, and their big men limiting points in the paint as they did in Game 2 by neutralizing Gasol and Randolph.
The Thunder better have their hard hats on in the paint tonight. This physical Memphis team has been pounding OKC on the inside with the combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Memphis also got great defensive efforts out of Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo on Saturday. Their hardnosed defense turned that game around. Memphis will continue to put pressure on this young, athletic Oklahoma City team. Their fans were wild in the last game, and I expect the sellout crowd to be a big factor in Game 4 as well. If the Griz get another W they will go back to OKC with a three to one lead that will put them well on their way to the Western Conference Finals.