at TD Garden, 8 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Fast Start: The Celtics need to put the Heat up against the ropes early in tonight's Game 3 -- something that didn't happen in Game 1 or 2. The C's were sluggish offensively at the start of Games 1 and 2 and trailed at the end of the first quarter in both games, which forced them to play catch-up for the rest of the night. Hitting first and getting the crowd involved will help to set a new tone for Boston, and will go a long way towards a Game 3 victory.
Shaq is Back?: All signs point to a Shaquille O'Neal return tonight, and it couldn't come at a better time. The last time Shaq returned from injury (April 3, in a win over the Pistons), he was a legitimate spark off the bench for five minutes before he departed with a strained calf muscle. If O'Neal does play, he'll come off the pine and will probably be on some type of minute restriction. But his presence alone (and his six hard fouls) should help to lift the Celtics' spirits as they fight to get back into this series.
Rondo Coming Through: Rajon Rondo's stats through the first two games have been fair (14 points and 9.5 assists, 38.5 percent shooting from the field), but he has yet to control a game the way many thought he would coming into this series. He has yet to be the most dominant player on the floor -- something he is definitely capable of given the limited resources Miami has to throw at him defensively. And should he perform in triple-double fashion, the Heat could very well switch LeBron James or Dwyane Wade onto him, which would free up either Paul Pierce or Ray Allen.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
He's going to stick around.
Pierce was ejected from the series opener with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and in Game 2 he strained his left Achilles' tendon in the first half and was still hobbling down the stretch. He knows that Boston's chances of avoiding a 3-0 hole depend on his ability to stick around at the end, and he plans to be there.
"Paul Pierce being in the game in the fourth quarter, healthy, is always going to help the Celtics," he said before practice on Friday.
The Heat took the first two games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals in Miami, and the series resumes with Game 3 on Saturday night in Boston. For these Celtics, who have never fallen behind 0-2 since the New Big Three was assembled in the summer of 2007, it's a crucial game to avoid what could be an insurmountable hole.
"We still feel like it's going to be a seven-game series," Pierce said. "I like our chances, especially with our backs against the wall."
Read the full preview HERE.