The Boston Celtics scored 61 points in the first half Sunday night, and needed every one of them as they squeaked past the Miami Heat, 93-91, in overtime to knot their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series at two games apiece.
The Boston Garden faithful got what they paid for, as the Celtics avoided defeat in the waning moments of the five-minute extra period when the Heat’s Dwyane Wade missed an open three-pointer. With LeBron James fouling out with just under two minutes remaining in regulation – his first time doing so as a member of the Heat – it was up to Wade, as the only member of their “Big Three” still on the floor, to carry the load in overtime. However, Miami, who had charged back from as many as 18 points down in the first half, managed only two in the extra session. It was the first overtime playoff loss in Heat history against six victories.
With the Heat’s Chris Bosh once again out for Miami (he’s now listed as day-to-day), the Heat rotated in a “round robin” of defenders to try and handle Boston's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the post. Joel Anthony started at center for Miami and grabbed three rebounds. Udonis Haslem continued his strong playoff contributions by adding a playoff-high 17 rebounds and 12 points. Miami also got some clutch reserve help from former Cleveland State University star Norris Cole who, in relief of guard Mario Chalmers – who had gotten in foul trouble by the third period – tossed in five points and pulled down two rebounds in 13 minutes of playing time. Overall, the Heat bench doubled up the Celtics reservists in points scored, 22-11.
The Celtics managed to get all five players in double-figures, led by Pierce’s 23 points. He got some good support from Garnett, who had a strong all-around game with 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots; Ray Allen, who added 16 points, including four three-pointers, and Rajon Rondo, who had 15 points and an equal number of assists. Brandon Bass, in rounding out the home starting five, continued his reliable scoring with 11 points – complementing that with seven rebounds and three assists. And off the bench for Boston, Keyon Dooling hit for ten points, including three important buckets from beyond the arc. Speaking about the Celtics’ performance in the first half, Boston coach Doc Rivers was effusive: “Our execution in the first half was flawless … it was as good as maybe we’ve had.”
With the Celtics limited to only 12 points during the third quarter (they scored only 28 in the third and fourth frames) and piling up the personal fouls, it looked as if the parquet might fall out from under them in the final 12 minutes. Making an inspired halftime adjustment, Miami brought a fly paper-like defense into the third period and limited Boston to only 34% percent shooting in the second half. But key field goals from Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen managed to keep the Celtics neck-and-neck with the Heat in the final minutes.
And though Pierce fouled out in the opening moments of the overtime session, it was James’ departure that was most keenly felt by Miami in the final moments of the fourth quarter. The Heat, who had the final possession of the period, could only manage an awkwardly-executed set play that had Udonis Haslem throwing up an errant shot from downtown at the buzzer.
Play now shifts to South Beach on Tuesday night for Game 5. To this point in both the Eastern and Western Conference finals, a visiting team hasn’t prevailed. Rondo may have defined the tone of the next contest with comments he made last night at halftime, commenting to ESPN’s Doris Burke that what inspired Boston was the Heat “complaining and crying to the referees in transition.” After the game, interviewed once again by Burke, he remained unapologetic, adding “I don’t take back what I said. That’s what it is.”