Celtics seek to even East finals against Heat

The NBA playoffs are all about adjustments from game to game and the Boston Celtics were able to solve Miami for the first time on Friday.

The Celtics decided to let LeBron James get his in Game 3 while double-teaming Dwyane Wade. Without the injured Chris Bosh in the lineup as a third option for the Heat, Doc Rivers' plan enabled Boston to jump out to a sizeable lead and survive a late Miami push in a 101-91 win.

Now it's Erik Spoelstra's turn to respond as the C's try to even the Eastern Conference Finals in Sunday's Game 4.

Kevin Garnett had 24 points and 11 rebounds and Paul Pierce scored 23 in Game 3 for Boston, which led by as many as 24 in the fourth quarter.

Rajon Rondo, who scored a career-high 44 points in Wednesday's Game 2 overtime loss, finished with 21 points and 10 assists. His final basket came in the form of a coast-to-coast layup after the had Heat pulled within eight late in regulation.

"Our goal was to win by any means necessary," said Rondo. "We needed to get the win. I just wanted to sacrifice and do the things for my teammates to get the lead, keep the lead and just run the show."

James had 34 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Wade scored just 18 for Miami, snapping his streak of 12 straight 20-point playoff games against Boston, the longest such run against the Celtics since Jerry West did it 18 times in a row from 1966-69.

Things were still tense in the closing moments, however, thanks to Heat sharpshooter Mike Miller, who scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and hit consecutive threes during a 15-2 Miami push.

Wade capped that surge with a slam and Mario Chalmers countered buckets by Garnett and Rondo with five quick points, converting a three-point play after a baseline floater to make it 95-87.

It was still an eight-point game when Ray Allen corralled a Wade miss and gave the ball to Rondo, who dribbled the length of the floor and finished a layup with 1:39 to play.

Garnett drained a 20-foot baseline jumper in the final minute to seal the win.

"(It was a) desperation game, to be honest," said Garnett. "And we played like it too. You don't want to be down 3-0 to a team like this."

James did his part early, scoring more points in the first quarter -- 16 -- than the entire Miami team did in the second -- 14. He had little help, though, until the fourth as Boston bottled about Wade throughout. In fact, the Celtics had an 85-63 cushion entering the fourth.

"They got us tonight," said Spoelstra. "We got off to a pretty good start. The reserves came into the game and really knocked us back on our heels. And from that point on we were playing catch-up, it seemed like, the whole night. We couldn't get over the hump."

Bosh isn't expected back from his lower abdominal strain for Sunday's Game 4 so Wade can expect the traps to continue but Spoelstra thinks effort remains the key.

"You look at all the effort areas we dominated the first two games, we got our butt kicked in all of them last night," Spoelstra said of Saturday after watching the film. "Points in the paint, they pounded us. Rebounding, they pounded us. Free throws, they beat us. Layup attempts, they beat us. Every area that has to do with toughness and effort we lost, and in the first two games we were winning those categories. Loose balls, 50-50 opportunities."

Rivers, meanwhile, remembers last season and understands winning one against Miami means little. The Celtics were in this same exact spot a year ago against the Heat in the second round, having lost two in South Florida before winning Game 3 in Beantown. That Celtics team lost Game 4 in overtime and were sent packing in Game 5.

"We're still down one game in this series, so we've only done one thing. We've won one game," Rivers said. "We have to come back, we have to play better. I still think we can play better. That's the first thing I told them after the game. I said, 'Great win, but that's still not our best.' We have to play better and we can play better."

This is the third straight season that the Heat and Celtics are meeting in the playoffs. Boston won in five games in 2010 in the first round and the Heat won in five last year in the semifinals.

Game 5 of the set is scheduled for Tuesday in Miami.