Garnett tallied 26 clutch points along with 11 rebounds and added two critical free-throws in the final seconds to ice the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Brandon Bass added a combined total of 42 in rounding out a 75-point effort by the Celtics’ starting five to help Boston go up three games to two in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final series.
The long-awaited return of the Heat’s Chris Bosh, who’d been sidelined since the first game of the quarterfinal series against Indiana, turned out to be anticlimactic as teammates LeBron James (30 points) and Dwyane Wade (27 points) were the only Miami players to reach double figures.
However, Bosh, who played only 14 minutes, had nine points and seven rebounds in his supporting role. Should he continue to improve, he promises to be an important factor when the setting shifts back to Boston Garden for Game 6 on Thursday.
Hitting only two of ten shots from the field in the first half, the Celtics’ Pierce hit four of his last nine shots, including a mammoth three-pointer over James with 52 seconds remaining in the game. That would prove to be the decisive score.
Rajon Rondo, who dropped 44 points on the Heat in Game 2’s losing effort in Miami, saved his heroics for the last half of the fourth quarter. Until that time, he was only 1-9 from the floor, with three turnovers. And though he finished the game with an impressive 13 assists, he was at risk of capsizing the Celtics’ chances with an inexplicable back-court violation during the third period that resulted in three Miami points and the cherry on top of a 9-0 Heat scoring run.
However, just as quickly as his outlet passes, Rondo turned on a dime and found his rhythm. He made some important layups in the closing minutes and a huge tap from under the basket to Mickael Pietrus who, standing alone behind the arc, proceeded to hit nothing but nylon and ignite the Celtics toward their victory.
Pietrus, whose crucial bucket supplemented his workmanlike 13 point effort, credited his improvement in part to a text message he received earlier that day from former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal tapped out the message “Keep believing and keep playing.” “So that’s what I did,” Pietrus said. And about the three-pointer after the Rondo kickout, he added, “I knew I had to take a shot and make it.”
The Heat received mediocre support from the rest of the team, which could only manage a combined total of 33 – though Udonis Haslem continued his exceptional rebounding performance, adding 14 for the game. And Mario Chalmers, who coming into last night’s contest averaged over 14 points a game, was practically invisible – hitting for nine points and only three assists in Miami’s losing effort.
Boston, until last night, was only 1-6 all-time at Miami in playoff games, which is why last night’s victory could be penultimate if the Celtics can hold serve when they hit the parquet again on Thursday night. Game 6 will be televised on ESPN, beginning at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.