The Miami Heat knew Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would not go away quietly. They've been here before. On Saturday, LeBron James and Co. found out the rest of the Brooklyn Nets' veterans weren't ready to roll over and die either.
Joe Johnson scored a team-high 19 points, and Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic each scored in double figures off the bench, as the Brooklyn offense came alive in a 104-90 Game 3 victory over Miami in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
The Heat hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, as the home team has won each of the three games. The teams reconvene Monday night at the Barclays Center for Game 4.
If you ask Nets players, though, they would probably be more than happy to run it back again Saturday night.
After two double-digit losses in Miami, Brooklyn found itself on both ends of the floor just in time to make this a series. The Nets shot 52.8 percent from the field, including a 15-of-25 mark from beyond the three-point stripe. Brooklyn was hovering around an average conversion rate during the first two games, a sign of death for a team that had redefined itself midseason as a constant deep-range threat.
Teletovic, who almost single-handedly kept Brooklyn in the game for three quarters in Game 2, vexed the Heat defense for a second straight contest with his ability to stretch the floor. Blatche (15 points) had the opposite effect. The oft-maligned big man bullied Chris Bosh in the post offensively and grabbed 10 boards, as Brooklyn had 16 more rebounds overall.
It was a particularly tough night for Bosh, who had only 12 points and five rebounds in 37 minutes. The Heat supporting cast as a whole floundered, with Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Shane Battier turning in disappointing two-way performances. Chalmers and Allen had been integral cogs in Games 1 and 2, scoring in double figures and stretching the Brooklyn defense allowing endless dribble-drives for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Heat superstars again took advantage of ill-equipped Nets perimeter defenders, combining for 48 points. James started out red-hot, making six of his first seven shot attempts en route to a 16-point first quarter. He finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a third straight solid performance. Wade had 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
The issue was, in critical moments, no one else was able to step up. Brooklyn largely built its advantage during a 26-14 third quarter, one that saw James and Wade score all 14 Heat points. While James at times kept Miami in the contest on his lonesome in the first half, he cooled down considerably to make only two of seven buckets in the last 24 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Nets were getting an all-out team effort. Six Brooklyn players scored in double figures, with Teletovic keying the third-quarter run with nine points. His ability to stretch the floor and pop out on pick-and-rolls gave Miami particular trouble when players rotated to help defensively. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was so spooked by Teletovic that he stuck James on him defensively.
The shooting spree allowed point guard Deron Williams to come away with a respectable line (nine points, 11 assists) despite missing eight of his 11 shot attempts. Williams consistently beat Chalmers and Norris Cole off the dribble before identifying and hitting open shooters. The three-time All-Star was coming off the first scoreless playoff game of his career.
"We need a win. It's a must-win," Williams told reporters prior to Game 3, per The Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports). "We can't afford to go down 3-0. We need to get these at home starting with the one on Saturday."
Williams was far from the biggest reason his team came through, but his teammates again picked him up.
Joe Johnson has been a savior this postseason dating back to the Toronto series, a consistent shot-maker and bully who uses his size and smarts to finish from all over the floor. Miami did a great job of curtailing him inside the first two games, so Johnson decided to attack from deep Saturday night. Five of his seven field goals were three-pointers.
Garnett was also solid in 23 minutes, coming close to a double-double with 10 points and seven rebounds. The 37-year-old big man had scored a combined four points in the first two games, performances that caused many to wonder whether Garnett might have run out of gas. Jason Kidd will probably be unable to play him much beyond the 20-minute mark for the rest of the series. If Blatche can continue contributing offensively, Kidd might not have to.
That said, Kidd will have to keep tinkering because he's unlikely to see Miami perform again like it did in the second half. The Heat could not find a bucket from beyond the arc until James Jones entered in proverbial garbage time.
Spoelstra might want to experiment with subbing Jones into Rashard Lewis' spot in the rotation. Lewis has been an active minus on both ends anytime he's touched the floor in this series. Jones has been on fire from distance going back to Miami's sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, and the offense got into a rhythm for a bit when he entered.
The Heat remain considerable favorites. But if Brooklyn's barrage of threes and defensive tenacity proved anything, it's going to take a whole lot of effort for James and Wade to send Garnett and Pierce off to pasture.
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