June 1, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) walks off the court after committing his third foul on Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (not pictured) during the second quarter in game three of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Despite a valiant comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, the Miami Heat fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 101-91. Going into the fourth quarter down 22, the Heat utilized a small lineup of Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Shane Battier and LeBron James. Miller made a couple wide-open 3s, and Chalmers made some nice drives to the basket. Miami managed to cut the deficit to eight with three minutes left to go, but couldn't get quite over the hump. The critical Game 4 is set for Sunday night at 8:30.
The super-small lineup had its positives and negatives. Like in Game 1, Miller was open for two big 3s thanks to Kevin Garnett's instinct to protect the paint. But Boston was able to grab some offensive rebounds that ended up taking off precious time off the clock. Boston's lead was just 11 with seven minutes left to go, but the Heat couldn't go on another run to close the gap more significantly. Then again, the Heat needed to play flawlessly to overcome a lead that crested at 24 early in the fourth.
James led the Heat with 34 points on 16-of-26 shooting from the field, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in 43 minutes. Wade struggled in the first half for the third consecutive time in this series, but he did break free for some baskets in the fourth quarter to finish with 18 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Miller added 14 points, and Chalmers had 11. Like in Game 2, the Heat struggled mightily on the free-throw line. Miami players missed their first three free-throw attempts and finished 10-for-20 -- the Heat could've taken the game into overtime if those free throws just dropped. Wade never got to the foul line, Chalmers was 3-of-6, and James was 1-of-5. The officials always tend to favor home teams - the referees even missed a blatant wrap-up Mickael Pietrus foul on James. Teams looking to win on the road can't leave points on the board when they do get to the line.
The Miami Heat started the game exceptionally well, utilizing great ball movement and running after made baskets for transition points. James scored 16 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, and Miami built a 28-22 lead. But the Heat then suffered an offensive drought lasting about seven minutes. James started forcing a couple ill-advised jumpers, and the offensive flow was suddenly nowhere to be found. Miami didn't even score one point during that stretch that lasted from the end of the first quarter to the midway point of the second.
Meanwhile, Boston did a good job of giving the ball to the 7-foot Kevin Garnett against the 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem deep in the paint to score baskets. The Celtics took a 13-point lead heading into intermission, and the Heat offense continued to look out-of-sorts in the third quarter. Boston went up by 18 points by the eight-minute mark of the third quarter on a Paul Pierce and-one that caused Wade to slam the ball to the floor in frustration. Boston dug the Heat in so deep a hole that even a furious rally couldn't help Miami get out of.
The Heat did have a nice run in the fourth quarter. But Miami cannot expect to win with two quarters of lulls and 10 missed free-throws.