Everywhere Dwyane Wade turned, two Boston Celtics seemed to be waiting.
And as long as Chris Bosh is out, he understands it's probably going to stay that way. The Celtics can double-team him without fear, knowing LeBron James is the only other Miami player who can consistently hurt them.
Wade scored only 18 points yesterday in the Heat's 101-91 loss in Game 3, snapping his streak of 12 straight 20-point playoff games against Boston that was the longest since Jerry West had 18 in a row from 1966-69.
Wade isn't expecting Bosh back from his lower abdominal strain tomorrow in Game 4, so the scheme probably won't change. But he vows that his performance will.
"I'm not coming here crying," he said today. "I can score the basketball, I've just got to find other ways to do that. It might not be a 41-point effort like it was in Indiana, you never know what each game takes, but I'm just going to go out here and play the game that I played for so many years and I will find a way to be effective."
Wade shot 9 of 20 in his second-lowest scoring performance of this postseason, after a five-point effort in Game 3 of the second round against Indiana. He was struggling with knee pain then, but insisted there was nothing wrong physically now.
The only problem, he said, was the two defenders closing on him whenever he came off a pick or caught the ball anywhere near the lane. He was also largely contained in Game 2, managing only 15 points in regulation before scoring eight in overtime to help the Heat pull out a 115-111 victory.
"As a team, we have to figure out ways to exploit the double team," James said. "As his teammates, we've got to make ourselves available to make plays for ourselves, and also when the double team is not there early on offense, we've got to get the ball to him early so he can attack without a double team."
Wade didn't attempt a free throw for the first time in a playoff game since 2004, when he was a rookie, and managed just six points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half. Still, he was far from the only problem for the Heat.
"You look at all the effort areas we dominated the first two games, we got our butt kicked in all of them last night," said coach Erik Spoelstra, rolling through the list quickly as if afraid he'd forget one if he stopped for a breath.
"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."
That's because the Celtics realized that's the only way they can beat such a talented opponent.
"I just thought Game 3 was more of a desperation game and we have to play like that," Kevin Garnett said. "We have to get these two at home by any means necessary and then deal with whatever after that. I felt like the way we played in Game 3 is the way we have to play. This team is too athletic, too good, too confident, too well coached, too well-sound defensively."
Garnett scored 24 points, the Celtics taking advantage of an undersized Heat lineup without Bosh by repeatedly throw it into their center near the rim. With Rajon Rondo adding 21 points and 10 assists, it's becoming clear they've found two matchups they can exploit.
Yet they were far from satisfied just by taking a game. They were in this same spot last year in the second round, losing two in Miami before winning Game 3 at home. But they dropped Game 4 in their building in overtime and were sent into the summer in Game 5.
The Celtics' veterans all said they remembered nothing about it - more likely ignoring it than a case of old guys suddenly losing their memories. But Ray Allen did say the Celtics seem to have a better idea of what it takes to beat the Heat this year.
"We're still down one game in this series, so we've only done one thing. We've won one game. We have to come back, we have to play better. I still think we can play better," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "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."
So can Wade, though he knows the Celtics will make it difficult. At some point, Bosh may be back and the Heat will be a Big Three again. In the meantime, Wade will keep seeing double.
"Like I said, it's no secret, guys," Wade told reporters before practice. "I'm getting doubled at the top of the key. I'm getting doubled in the paint, so let's not shoot a turnaround jump shot all the time, which is not a good shot for our team. We're going to have to find other ways for our team to loosen things up. And eventually, I'm a patient person, so eventually things will hopefully loosen up and I can get my opportunities where I can attack and get in a rhythm a little more."
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