Can Heat keep C's at an arm's length?

Rajon Rondo's left elbow, is that the pivot point?

We're about to find out. As the Boston Celtics try to tie their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Miami Heat, Boston hopes for the best and fears the worst regarding the elbow its point guard dislocated when he and Miami's Dwyane Wade tangled in Game 3.

What can Rondo give the C's? Can Boston take the upper hand? We asked five writers:

1. On a 1-to-10 scale, how amazing was Rajon Rondo's return in Game 3?



Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: 10. Sometimes injuries are embellished for dramatic effect, but any fan has to give Rondo plenty of accolades here. When you go from wondering whether a player season's is over, to watching him captain his team to victory over a game's crucial closing moments, that takes guts. It also is worthy of a perfect score.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Can this go to 11? I'm not one to use the word courageous when it comes to playing a game, but mere mortals would have passed out from the pain caused by a dislocated elbow. Hell, I almost passed out watching it. It was one of the grittier performances in playoff history.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: Rondo's inital return was a 3, because the left arm was dangling, and he seemed to be a liability. Then he used that injured arm to steal the ball like John Havlicek, and breeze in for a dunk to put the Celtics up 18. That kicked it up to a 7. The 10s are reserved for Willis and Isiah only.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: 8. Elbows aren't supposed to bend that way and, when they do, you assume the season-ending worst. Yet, there were probably people in TD Garden that hit the concessions stands or restroom and, by the time they returned to the seat, were unaware that Rondo had even dislocated his elbow, popped it back into place and returned to the sideline himself.

Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: 9. A friend once described dislocating your elbow like this: Imagine sticking your arm in the jaws of a metal vise. Once you really start to feel the pressure, turn it another five or six revolutions. If Rondo experienced anything close to that level of pain, then his return to the floor in Boston was nearly miraculous.

2. On a 1-to-10 scale, how much will Rondo give the Celtics in Game 4?

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: 5. Physically, Rondo will be clearly affected, but his mere presence on the floor will be crucial in Boston's attempt to tie the series. His tempo, defensive pressure and overall explosiveness should remain intact despite the limited use of one limb. We won't see any triple-doubles, but he'll give Boston a chance to win.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: For inspiration, Rondo taking the court would be a 10, but I would subtract seven for his effectiveness. So, a 3. He played like a champ in the fourth quarter of Game 3, but to play all four quarters in Game 4? I can't see him being effective with one arm. I would guess the Heat would run him into a million screens.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: 9. Much like Jason Kidd, it is nice when Rondo scores, but he can go scoreless and control the tempo. Unless the Heat "accidentally" hits that elbow over and over again, I expect Rondo to drive and kick, play aggressive defense, and launch his usual layups and floaters.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: 4. He's going to be incredibly sore and that left arm will likely still be dangling a bit. Rondo will get another jolt of adrenaline and make a handful of plays, but he'll have more of an emotional impact with the Celtics than a physical impact on the hardwood.

Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: 3. It's never kind to exploit a person's physical limitations, but if Rondo's arm is as limp on Monday night as it appeared in Game 3, the Heat will play up on his right shoulder, forcing Rondo to use his left. If that happens, Rondo will have a hard time being effective, no matter how physically resilient he is.

3. On a 1-to-10 scale, how well did the Celtics and Heat play in Game 3?

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Celtics, 8. There was a bump in the road during second quarter, so this wasn't a no-hitter. After halftime, however, Boston couldn't have excelled much more on both ends of the floor. Heat, 5: Mediocre outings from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. A no-show by Chris Bosh. Lazy defensive rotations. Only sensational efforts from Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony kept things competitive.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: The Celtics were a 9, while the Heat were a 2. In three trips to Boston this season, the Celtics have limited the Heat to an average of 81 points. LeBron always looks as though he gets bad shellfish in the Hub. Miami needs to find a way to win in the defending conference champs' building.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: A 3 for the Heat and a 6 for Boston. The Heat's big three had their lowest point total of the year, and the team as a whole was flat in the pivotal third quarter. Boston got a throwback performance from Kevin Garnett and a strong outing from Paul Pierce, but Ray Allen, Jeff Green and Big Baby could have played much better.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Celtics 7; Heat 3. Garnett put together his best ever postseason effort in a Boston uniform, while Pierce not only chipped in 27 points, he did a solid job containing LeBron James. Take away the efforts of Anthony (first-half offensive rebounds) and Chalmers (7-of-9 shooting, 17 points) and the Heat shot 31.2 percent and would have lost by 20+.

Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: The Celtics earned a 9. They set out with a few primary objectives, the main being to get Kevin Garnett good looks close to the basket. Mission accomplished.
The Heat turned in a 2. They made a series of ill-advised choices defensively and LeBron never challenged the Celtics.

4. On a 1-to-10 scale, how likely is it Boston will tie the series Monday?

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: 8. Boston was rejuvenated Saturday night thanks to a throwback effort by Garnett and a gritty return by Rondo. Their biggest problems against the Heat (offense and turnovers) are eased in the friendly confines of the Garden. Miami will have a strong counter prepared, but the C's will be ready for it.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: I'd say 4. While the Celtics' D against the Heat in Boston seems to have no holes, if Rondo and Delonte West aren't at full strength, who's playing point for most of the game? Carlos Arroyo? The guy the Heat released this season because he was ineffective? That's not who you want in a crucial playoff game.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: 5. Pierce is capable of giving another strong effort, but Garnett is not, which means Boston's chances are up to Allen's sweet stroke. If he's on and Rondo can play a strong 30 minutes, that's enough for them to withstand the inevitable LeBron/Wade Game 4 explosion.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: 8. The Celtics need to carry over the momentum and quality of play from Game 3, but it would seem only injuries would prevent them from tying up this series if they play like they did Saturday. Boston must approach Game 4 as another must-win situation.

Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: 5. The Celtics might shoot better than 48 percent from 16 feet and beyond, but it's unlikely. And for all the Heat's ups and downs this season, they've excelled at making adjustments on both ends. Still, the game will be played on the Celtics' home floor, where the Heat haven't won since the Garfield administration.

5. On a 1-to-10 scale, how likely is it Boston will win the series?

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: 3. Barring an unlikely four-game winning streak, the Celtics best chance of winning the series involve winning a Game 7 in hostile territory. The Celtics' core is 1-9 in these potential road closeout games over the past three postseasons. A victory this year in such a scenario is still certainly possible, but far from probable.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: With Rondo and West limited by injuries and the Heat having home-court advantage, I'd say a 3. I'd never count out a healthy Celtics team, but this team is holding walkthroughs in the trainer's room. The Heat, though, need to smell blood and get that killer instinct. Don't let the Celtics think they have one more playoff life to live.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: 1. Kobe is gone from the playoffs, which means the unofficial king-of-the-NBA title is up for grabs between Wade (going for title No. 2) and LeBron (has everything but a title). There's no way either player squanders that opportunity by letting the Heat fall.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: 4. Let's be honest, the percentages still heavily favor the Heat right now. But, if Boston wins Game 4, the scale tips back in favor of the Green and this number jumps to a 6 or 7. A loss in Game 4 essentially means this series is over, but you have to like the Celtics' chances going back to Miami tied at 2-2 and with all the confidence and momentum in their travel bags.

Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: 3.5. The series now hangs on a few big questions: Do the Heat double Garnett? Will the Heat attempt only a quarter of their shots at the rim? If LeBron actually chooses to attack, can the Celtics do anything about that? So long as the Heat can answer some of these questions in their favor, they should squeak by.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz writes for ESPN.com. Chris Forsberg is a reporter for ESPN Boston. Rashad Mobley, Rob Peterson and Brian Robb write for the TrueHoop Network.
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