1. Get the Heat in foul trouble.
Pop quiz, hotshot: how many times has LeBron James fouled out in the NBA playoffs?
If I asked you this question yesterday, the correct answer would’ve been none. Not once. Today, that answer is one, and that’s because last night, LeBron fouled out with two minutes left in OT. At the same time, Chalmers finished with five fouls and Wade and Joel Anthony both notched four, limiting their aggressiveness and the amount of defensive pressure they could apply.
But the key was getting James out of the game. Without LeBron on the court, the Chris Bosh-less Heat are basically a lottery team. In the two games the Heat have won so far in this series, he had two fouls per; in the two they’ve lost, he had four and six. Not a coincidence.
2. Run the fast break effectively.
Over the course of their 61-point first half Sunday night, the Celtics constantly got out in transition, with Rondo leading a fast-paced and aggressive offense. Considering they have LeBron — arguably the best ball-handling/passing forward of all time — the Heat are renowned for dominating the transition game, and if the Celtics are going to steal a game from Miami at home, they need to be able to run with them.
3. Hit threes.
Part of running with Miami successfully means that, when Rondo gets down the court fast and puts the Heat’s perimeter D on their heels and out of position, his teammates need to capitalize. Those 61 points had a lot to do with their shooting 7 of 16 from three-point range in the first half, and the 31 points in the second half/overtime had a lot to do with going 3 of 11 the rest of the way.
“Hit threes” seems like an obvious piece of advice, but it’s more important for the Celtics than, say, the Heat. Boston doesn’t have any players they can expect to score with the potency of James and Wade. If they can spread the burden around and score efficiently — Garnett and Rondo in/around the paint, the rest of the team contributing from long-range — then they actually have a chance of tallying more than Miami’s far-superior offense.
4. Win the offensive boards.
A huge reason why Boston pulled it out last night were Mikael Pietrus’ two clutch offensive rebounds in overtime. Without Bosh, the Heat are deficient in the front-court, and offensive rebounds become one of the easiest ways for Boston to even the playing field offensively against Miami. In Game 4, they finished with an 11-7 edge offensively, and the discrepancy was even greater in Game 3, with Boston edging Miami 12-6. And sure enough, they were beaten in this category in Games 1 and 2 by a total of 26-18.
5. Let Rondo be Rondo.
There’s a reason why I’ve used images of Rondo for all these factors: the Celtics’ all-world point guard has been phenomenal throughout this series. Even in their Game 2 loss, he notched 44 points on only 24 shots, and during the two Celtics wins he’s averaging 18 points, 12.5 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Stats don’t properly sum up his effectiveness, though; there’s also the quotes, and the incredible ease and control with which he’s been playing the game.
Paul Pierce is still the Celtics’ most consistent scorer; Kevin Garnett’s still their best big. Ray Allen is no longer their best three-point shooter, having been slowed by injury and age. Mickael Pietrus is inconsistent and limited but still occasionally dangerous from long-range; Brandon Bass can put up a double-double, but he hasn’t yet in the playoffs. Everyone’s just pretending that Marquis Daniels is Avery Bradley wearing a wig. Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins are, well, Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins. Keyon Dooling has a cool name.
Basically, and above all else, for the Celtics to win they need Rondo to play as well as anyone on the floor. So far, so good.