MIAMI - The Celtics left South Florida Thursday morning considering several “ifs’’ and “should’ves.’’ But they will not have long to be haunted by recriminations and regrets as they prepare for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday at TD Garden.
At the top of the Celtics’ list of complaints was that Rajon Rondo probably deserved a foul call late in overtime of a 115-111 loss to the Heat Wednesday night. There was also numerical evidence pointing to Boston being victimized, coach Doc Rivers pointing out the Heat’s LeBron James shot nearly as many free throws (24) as the entire Celtics team (29).
But not all the numbers favor the Celtics’ general argument that they were mistreated in Miami.
In the opening two games, both won by the Heat, the Celtics were whistled for 52 fouls (to 39 for the Heat). That is a ratio similar to Miami’s semifinal series with Indiana, when the Heat committed 129 fouls (to 147 for the Pacers) and had one player disqualified (to four for Indiana). In three home games, Miami had 64 personal fouls (to 77 for the Pacers).
Those statistics follow a season-long pattern. Miami totaled 1,282 fouls (three disqualifications) to 1,356 (nine disqualifications) for the opposition during the 66-game season.
During the regular season, the Celtics committed more fouls (1,315) than their opponents (1,217).
The Celtics are not likely to dispute the difficulty of defending James and Dwyane Wade; their combination of power and quickness, in isolation or transition, forces opponents to foul. But the Celtics are lobbying for similar consideration, especially during crunch time.
The Celtics lost captain Paul Pierce, who committed his sixth foul defending a Wade drive with 47 seconds remaining in regulation.
“I think Paul Pierce attacked just as much as LeBron James attacked last night,’’ Rivers said on a conference call Thursday, “so I’ll leave it at that. We’ll get past that distraction. Today, I think we’ve already moved past it and tomorrow we’ll be ready to play.
“They are going to shoot a lot of free throws, but we have to, as well. Rondo was extra aggressive last night and Paul was - even more so when you watch film.
“Paul is a powerful guy, and he is going to continue to be aggressive. James and Wade are, too, and there’s nothing wrong with it. They’re going to get to the free throw line, and we have to get there, as well, by being just as aggressive.’’
But the Celtics cost themselves chances for victory. They failed to control a rebound that would have given them the final possession of regulation. And Kevin Garnett was off target on a bank shot that would have increased their lead to 4 points in overtime.
Had Rondo gone to the line with the score tied, 105-105, he might have finished with 2 more points and possibly had a chance to surpass Clyde Drexler’s playoff record for points in an overtime (13) - but it still might not have been enough to change the result.
Rivers had to restrain Rondo to prevent him from disputing the non-call as a timeout was called with 1:27 to play.
“I just remind them of the score,’’ Rivers said after the game. “Even when we started the third quarter, we were down 6, and I told them before the game, down 6 on the road here, we would have taken it.
“Don’t let the comeback that they had skewer what you’ve done the whole game. Just hang in there, stay in there.
“I thought our guys did a really good job of that all game. Listen, there were plenty of times in this game, in my opinion, for our guys to get distracted. I thought they pulled themselves out of it very well for most of the game.’’
Rivers noted the team’s third-quarter play was costly.
“We got away from what we were doing,’’ Rivers said. “The first-half game plan was absolutely wonderful. The second half, we went back to the first-game way of playing.
“The ball stuck, we never got the ball to the other side of the floor, concentrated on the first option too much. By the fourth quarter, we were back to playing the right way.
“You’re not going to beat Miami by going to the strong side, isos. You’re going to beat them by ball movement. The ball has to touch different hands and the ball has to change sides of the floor.
“We need to tweak some things, but not much. We just have to do it better. I think we’ll be fine.
“Listen, we have two games at home. We have to take one game at a time. If we win those two at home, it’s a tied series, that’s the way we have to look at it.
“We have to play with the same intensity and then carry it through for 48 minutes. That’s what it takes to win against any team, not just Miami.’’