BOSTON The fact that the Miami Heat have spent a lot of time at the free throw line isn't a surprise. They have LeBron James (8.1 free throw attempts) and Dwyane Wade (6.1 attempts) who ranked No. 3 and No. 14, respectively in the regular season in free throw attempts per game. In the playoffs, James leads all players in free throw attempts per game (10.8) with Wade ranking No. 6 with 7.7 attempts per game. The Heat as a team rank second in free throw attempts (29.5) per game in the playoffs, which is up from their No. 8 ranking during the regular season.
Miami spends a lot of time at the free throw line because their core guys -- James and Wade -- play with an aggressive, steady attack-mode demeanor. It's a demeanor that Celtics coach Doc Rivers understands his team must try in tonight's Game 3 matchup.
"They are going to shoot a lot of free throws, but we need to as well," Rivers said.
It certainly hasn't been like that for the Celtics this season. They were ranked No. 27 during the regular season in free throw attempts, and they haven't been much better in the playoffs. They rank 12th (out of 16 teams) with a 21.6 free throw attempts per game average in the postseason.
The key to Boston getting to the line more often is Paul Pierce, who led the C's in free throw attempts (5.6) per game this season. In the playoffs this year, Pierce is up to 6.5 attempts per game but is averaging just three per game in the first two meetings against the Heat.
One of the more glaring statistics in the Eastern Conference finals thus far has been the discrepancy between the number of free throws taken by James (33) in comparison to Pierce (6).
"Paul is a powerful guy," Rivers said. "There's a lot of contact as well when he drives. We just want them (Pierce and his Celtic teammates) to continue to be aggressive. You know Lebron and Wade will be. There's nothing wrong with it. That's who they are. You know going into it, they're going to go to the free throw line. But we have to get there as well, and we have to do it being just as aggressive."
Finding a way to translate more aggressive play into points at the line will certainly be a factor in tonight's outcome. Here are some other keys to watch heading into what a must-win game for the Boston Celtics.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Coming off the kind of performance Rajon Rondo had in Game 2, you can expect the Heat to look at ways to not allow him to be such a dominant force. Do not be surprised if Rondo sees more double-teams along with the Heat making a more concerted effort to get the ball out of Rondo's hands. "(Rondo) almost single-handedly beat us," said Heat forward Shane Battier.
MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Ronny Turiaf: The Heat fully understand and accept that they will not win this matchup. But what they have been able to do in the first two games is make Garnett work hard for all his points, limiting him primarily to scoring from the perimeter which is not what the Celtics want. One of the reasons Boston was able to move past both Atlanta and Philadelphia in the playoffs, was because of Garnett's ability to impact the game as a scorer or a passer, from the post. That has not been the case in the first two games against Miami, a trend the C's need to stop if they are to get back into this series.
PLAYER TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass has to continue to find ways to maximize his minutes on the floor, knowing his playing time will be somewhat limited because of the Celtics success with a small ball lineup that more often than not, doesn't include him. The best way for him to get more minutes, is to do what he does best and that is to knock down mid-range jumpers. During the regular season, only four players (Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant) took more mid-range jumpers (15-19 feet) than Bass. It has been more of the same in the playoffs, where Bass ranks third in 15-19 foot shots taken, trailing only Westbrook and teammate Kevin Garnett. And with the Heat doing so much switching defensively, there's a very good chance that he'll at various points in the game have a matchup that's decidedly in his favor.
STAT TO TRACK -- The three-point shot was never a real weapon of choice for the Miami Heat during the regular season, which explains why they were ranked just 20th in the regular season in 3-pointers made per game (5.6). They have been better in the playoffs in that category, ranking fifth with 6.2 3s made per game. Two games into this series, and Miami's ability to connect on the long ball has played a major role in both Miami victories. Boston's ability to limit the Heat's effectiveness from 3-point range will go far in their effort to win Game Three.