Five questions for Game 3 as the Heat try to basically put the series away, the Celtics try to get a win, David Stern tries to decide if this game is fix-worthy and Ryan Hollins tries to master the concept of grabbing a rebound ...
WILL THE REFEREES STAY OUT OF THE WAY?
Look, the technical fouls were a joke in Game 1, but the Heat were the better team that night and deserved to win. It's unreasonable to argue that the referees cost the Celtics Game 1, but it's not unreasonable to at least wonder if they were THE determining factor in Game 2. There's no way around it -- the first seven fouls in the game were called against the Celtics and 11 of the last 13. LeBron James attempted 24 free throws, five fewer than the whole Celtics team. The Rondo no-call was gigantic, an inexplicable head-scratcher that deserves some reprimand from the league (any chance that'll happen?) and Dwyane Wade absolutely put his leg out first on the and-one call against Kevin Garnett in overtime. These refs are three of the best in the world at their job?
This would all be almost forgivable if we trusted this as simply a case of human error, three guys all having an off night, but David Stern has cemented our skepticism by treating us like morons over the years. Trying to sweep Tim Donaghy under the rug has turned every NBA observer into an amateur conspiracy theorist, and that's not going to change until David Stern realizes the only person in America who doesn't think the NBA is in full crisis mode with its officiating is David Stern. If you truly think the game are rigged and Stern is sitting somewhere manipulating everything through the referees, it's a perfectly legitimate stance. They've done zero to try and convince you otherwise. My expectation for the Game 3 refs? At least one of the three will do a lousy job, if only because that's the established track record.
CAN RAJON RONDO DO IT AGAIN?
I've watched every Celtics playoff game since 1981 -- at least that's as long as I can really remember -- and Rondo's performance in Game 2 was the best all-around game I've ever seen by a Celtics player. As a professional Larry Bird worshiper that pains me to write, but it's true. Bird has plenty of submissions -- the shootout vs. Dominique Wilkins, the 39-12-10 vs. the Knicks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1984, the triple-double in the Game 6 title-clincher vs. the Rockets in 1986, the 37-9-9 in Game 7 vs. the Pistons in 1987 (the overlooked great performance in Bird's career -- no one remembers it because of the steal in Game 5) -- but he never played 53 minutes and scored 44 points on 16-of-24 shooting with 10 assists and eight rebounds. The numbers don't always tell the story, true, but this time it did: On a court with five first-ballot Hall of Famers Rondo was the best player by 50 lengths. And nationally (and, really, locally) Rondo was overshadowed by the incompetence of the referees (and the Hornets -- under the ownership of the NBA, which means David Stern -- winning the draft lottery), which again speaks to serious this issue is.
That's a once or twice in a brilliant career kind of game, it's not going to happen again in this series. But Rondo is the reason the Heat were very much rooting for the 76ers to win Game 7 last week. They wanted no part of him. He doesn't need to be historically great again for the Celtics to win: remember, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett shot a combined 14-of-37 and Brandon Bass had eight points. But if he isn't at least very, very good this series will be 3-0, Miami.
WILL THE BENCH DO ANYTHING?
Nope. Why should there be any confidence? The bench played 49 minutes in Game 2, scored seven points with five rebounds and one assist. You can't really expect much from Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins (watching Hollins flail around hopelessly begs the question we've all been asking: Is Sean Williams really this bad?), but Mickael Pietrus has to contribute something other than missed jumpers and dopey clear path fouls. The reason the Celtics were forced to play Ray Allen 43 minutes on a pair of wrecked ankles was only because he's still a much better option than the Pietrus we've seen in the postseason. You can't bank on Dooling or Stiemsma or Hollins or Pietrus, but given the minutes played by the starters in Game 2 it would be an enormous lift if someone could come off the bench and make a impact. No shock, but Game 3 will be won or lost with the A-listers again going north of 40 minutes.
CAN MIKE BREEN STOP THE BALL-WASHING?
The "national announcer is rooting against us" angle is an inevitable symptom of homerism and always becomes a sub-story during a life of a series. It actually verges on annoying most of the time -- you think most of these guys really care who wins and who doesn't? -- and when the anti-Mike Breen tweets started surfacing in Game 1 it just seemed forced. Breen has always been solid if not spectacular and definitely nowhere near offensive. But I've got to tell you, something has happened to Breen -- someone finally slipped him the ESPN poison and the guy has fallen madly, deeply and blindly in love with LeBron. If LeBron had made that shot at the end of regulation in Game 2, I'm 80 percent convinced Breen would have had the first on-air orgasm at ESPN since Roy Firestone mistakenly sat on his Cable Ace Award during an "Up Close" special in 1987. It's as if Stuart Scott has script approval on everything Breen says about LeBron -- listen tonight and tell me I'm wrong. This is an unexpected and tragic downfall that once again teaches us the golden rule: There is only one Mike Gorman.
WILL LEBRON HAVE 'THE' MOMENT?
I'm on record -- I think LeBron James is one of the 10 best basketball players in history. But there are probably 100 players in history I'd rather have with the ball in the final possession of a one-point game. Makes zero sense, right? I can't explain it, which is kind of a problem when your job is to articulate these thoughts. I've seen nothing from the first two games to alter my opinion of LeBron historically -- he was terrific in Game 1, and put up a 34-10-7 in Game 2 -- because I've seen nothing new from him. He's the world's best player by a mile for 47:50, and is just another guy for the final 10 seconds. It was astonishing to watch him settle for a 22-footer with Rondo (giving up 100 pounds) guarding him during the final possession of regulation and he remarkably passive during overtime. If the Celtics had won the game in overtime LeBron would have been destroyed nationally on Thursday, and rightfully so. Wade -- and the referees -- bailed him out, plain and simple. It's not fair and I have no idea what it really means, but as a Celtics fan does the prospect of a one-point lead with 10 seconds left and LeBron with the ball in his hands scare you at all? He's terrifying until it truly matters.