How did Celtics crank up KG to beat Heat?
Executing eight “knuckle” pushups on a parquet
floor really shouldn’t be much of a challenge for a professional athlete.
But for Kevin Garnett, this exercise interlude certainly seemed a bit more
difficult than dominating the low post in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference
KG, now working at center for the Boston Celtics, executed the aforementioned
Friday night pushups in the bravado-restoring aftermath of a vigorous shot
block by the Miami Heat’s interior defenders. It was a rare demonstration of
resistance from the Heat, who absorbed a 101-91 defeat and watched their series
lead dip to 2-1.
With Garnett (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 dimes, six
rebounds) controlling prolonged stretches in Boston’s homecoming, the Celtics
now seem to have a duo that’s almost as tricky to defend as Miami’s.
The strategic elephant in the room is, of course, the absence of Heat forward
Chris Bosh. While there’s been no shortage of observers using the Bosh theme to
explain portions of Game 3, we’re here to dig into how his ab injury is putting
a strain on the Heat.
First, there’s the usually stifling Miami defense, which now must use the
6-foot-9 tandem of Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony for most of the shifts against
KG — who is listed at 6-11 but may be closer to 7-1. Despite being fairly stout
and defensive-minded, Turiaf and Anthony don’t have the length to handle
Garnett when the Celtics are committed to exploiting his combination of
altitude and skill.
“They established him deep in the paint,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra
said of the Celtics and KG. “We can do some things better in terms of
getting him a step further out and trying to disrupt him a little bit on his
catches, but he was able to get in a real good comfort zone.”
KG’s ability to reach that comfort zone can be traced to Miami’s failure to
leave well enough alone, with “well enough” referring to Garnett’s
6-of-18 shooting effort that accompanied Rondo’s 44-point masterpiece in the
Heat’s Game 2 triumph.
During that particular skirmish, KG put up nine jump shots — a variety of
face-up opportunities and turnarounds on the post — in his 12-miss catalog. He
did force a couple of fourth-quarter fouls on the low post, but he did little
to provoke a serious alteration in how he was defended in Game 3.
The Game 3 change was a full-frontal assault.
With Turiaf, Anthony and others trying to deny an entry pass by standing
between KG and the Celtics ballhandler, Garnett was able to catch lob passes
and go 7 for 10 from within 5 feet of the basket. He was a respectable 3
of 6 on mid-range jumpers.
Before howling over Miami’s adjusted scheme, it should be pointed out that
fronting the tall, relatively beefy front line of the Indiana Pacers worked a
bit better in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Unfortunately for the Heat,
the Celtics have a superior approach to emptying the area around the rim. They
have Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to occupy help defenders on weakside
misdirection that clears the space behind KG, Boston also has Rondo, who is
tremendous at beating the full front with perfect-trajectory lob passes.
Garnett has the experience and discipline to hold off his defender without
fouling, and he remains bouncy enough to go get the ball.
But looking at the bigger picture, Rondo is more of a problem for the Heat.
Blessed with the quickness, dexterity and cunning to take the ball anywhere at
any time, Rondo is afforded a defensive cushion that provides plenty of
operating room. With his defender usually unable to reach out and touch him,
the Boston playmaker is able to make his pinpoint lobs with little obstruction.
He also has greater space to set up a deadly dribble move or unleash a jumper,
the latter being a Rondo adventure that worked out better in Game 3 than Game 2
history would have suggested.
Through three quarters in Game 3, Boston’s defense held Miami to 63 points and grabbed
defensive rebounds, allowing allowed Rondo to push the ball in limited
transition. With the Heat unable to load up their defensive wall to the
required proportions, Rondo was able to find Garnett or Pierce or one of
Boston’s heroic role players for an easy look.
So how was Boston able to make a reasonable (and temporary) defensive stand
against Miami’s potent tandem of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?
Well, despite Pierce’s efforts, the Celtics seem to have little chance of
stopping James. They just have to hope LBJ makes enough jumpers (as was the
case in Game 3) to steer his attack interest away from the paint and keep the
C’s — KG specifically — out of foul trouble.
The emphasis of Boston’s pack-line defense is Wade, who’s been the focus of
double-team tactics the past couple of games. Boston frequently is sending a
second defender at Wade on the catch. Waiting until he puts the ball on the
floor with a head of steam is just begging Wade to split both defenders and
double-cross the entire team.
The second defender putting the squeeze on Wade has been the rangy and
laterally quick Garnett, who when matched with Anthony or Turiaf isn’t
concerned with being burned by their offensive talents or physically taxed
enough to diminish his performance on offense.
With Bosh on the floor, Garnett would have an All-Star with mid-range shooting
skills to deal with and would be unable to provide the double on Wade.
The Celtics didn’t exactly eliminate the contribution of their defensive target,
but they did limit him to 18 points on 9-of-20 shooting. That’s quite a bit
less devastating than the numbers Wade put on Indy during the latter stages of
the previous series. During that surge, Spoelstra did a great job of concocting
baseline screens to free Wade for layups, lobs and deep-post touches. Boston’s
defenders, though, are much better at bumping cutters and helping teammates
through off-ball screens.
On the other end, look for the Heat to play behind KG more often in Game 4. If
they can push him farther out on the post and challenge his full-extension
jumpers, they have a decent chance of holding the Celtics to sub-50 percent
If KG makes most of his shots, the next step for Miami is doubling the post and
using its considerable length and quickness to rotate to shooters before it’s
And just to be clear, “too late” means 2-2.