Comeback pushes Celtics within a win of finals
MIAMI — The Celtics’ Big Three aren’t dead yet.
And they’re now just one victory from an unlikely trip to the NBA Finals.
Finding a way to push past the Miami Heat’s season-long home-court dominance, Boston pushed past the league’s next-generation Big Three for a 94-90 victory Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We’ve done nothing,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re playing a heck of a basketball team. Just because we’re going to Boston, I told them we had to play.”
Paul Pierce helped put it away for the Celtics with a 3-pointer with 52.9 seconds to play.
“We came in with the right focus,” Pierce said. “You could kind of feel it. It was one of those games we were locked in.”
Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 26 points and 11 rebounds, with Pierce adding 19 points and point guard Rajon Rondo 13 assists.
That proved to be enough to offset 30 points from Heat forward LeBron James and 27 from Miami guard Dwyane Wade.
“We’re just hanging in there,” Rivers said. “We hung around enough to get to the fourth quarter.”
The game marked the return of Heat forward Chris Bosh from a three-week absence caused by a lower abdominal strain. He did not play the fourth quarter and finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes, 23 seconds.
“That’s something we can build on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Bosh.
However, he felt he couldn’t push Bosh any further.
“I didn’t think it would necessary be fair to him, to throw him in with three minutes to go,” Spoelstra said.
Now, Bosh knows there might not be any other choice.
“I felt good,” he said. “I definitely had more to give, and I’ll be there. I’ll definitely be ready to play more than I played tonight.”
The Heat pushed to a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run, but Boston then closed within 78-77 with 4:50 to play on a Rondo layup.
After a James layup was blocked by Garnett, Garnett hit a short jumper to push Boston to an 81-80 lead.
Heat guard Mario Chalmers then was called for a technical foul for a shove on Garnett, with a Ray Allen 3-pointer putting Boston up 82-80 with 2:54 to play.
From there, the Celtics worked for Pierce’s 3-pointer, which put Boston up 90-86, effectively ending it.
Now, the future of the Heat’s own Big Three is at stake.
“It’s a loss, and that’s all it is,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what our focus is right now, to fight any noise from outside and any conditions.”
There will be plenty to follow, with Game 6 on Thursday in Boston, where the Heat lost its first two visits of this series.
“This is what the playoffs are all about,” Spoelstra said. “It tests your collective character and your resolve.
“This is the journey we are on now, for whatever reason. It’s probably like a boxer. You’ve got to go to your corner now.”
The Celtics tied it early in the third quarter, with the Heat’s smallish lineup, one that featured power forward Udonis Haslem starting at center, offering little resistance at the rim. The Celtics loaded up on points in the paint.
But after a backcourt turnover from Rondo, the Heat then got a 3-pointer from forward Shane Battier to take a 57-50 lead. A hook shot by Haslem extended the run to 9-0 and put the Heat up 59-50.
The Celtics, though, made another push, with a 3-pointer by guard Keyon Dooling just before the buzzer completing a 15-1 run that gave them a 65-60 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Heat went scoreless over the final 3:48 of the third quarter, unable to find shots in their half-court offense.
When Wade scored on a layup 30 seconds into the third quarter, it was his first points since 7:38 of the first period.
The Heat pushed to a 13-point lead early in the second quarter but saw the offense sputter when James went to the bench. After hitting his first three shots, Wade then missed his next six, returning to his recent first-half struggles.
With 11 first-half turnovers, the Heat gave away almost all of its early advantage, going into halftime up 42-40.
James led the Heat with 18 first-half points and nine first-half rebounds, with Brandon Bass pacing Boston with 10 points over the opening two periods.
After scoring 44 points in his previous visit to Miami, in the Celtics’ Game 2 overtime loss, Rondo missed his first six shots, not converting his first basket until 7:58 remained in the second period. Garnett also opened 1-for-6 from the field.
Rondo closed the first half with a sleeve on his left elbow after he was struck in the game.
It was an interesting first quarter on many levels, foremost because it featured the first action for Bosh since May 13, when he sustained a lower abdominal strain in the first half of the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. Bosh entered with 5:06 left in the first quarter, his first appearance off the bench since Nov. 23, 2003, as a rookie with the Toronto Raptors.
With Bosh on the floor, contributing five quick points, the Heat pushed to an 11-point lead before taking a 24-16 edge into the second quarter. The Heat shot 10-for-19 in the first quarter compared to 6-for-20 for the Celtics, but Miami was limited by seven turnovers in the first period.
It was not the best of starts for Rondo, who shot 0-for-5 in the first quarter with just one assist. After struggling at the starts of previous games, Wade this time scored seven points in the first quarter.
NOTES: It proved to be a tumultuous 48 hours for Bosh, with a female masseuse dying at his home Monday. Police do not suspect foul play. “Our hearts go out to her family. We are very sorry for their loss,” Bosh and his wife, Adrienne, said in a statement issued before Tuesday’s game. … The Heat opened with its third different center in as many game, with Haslem starting in the middle. Joel Anthony started for the Heat at center in Game 4, with Ronny Turiaf starting the first three games of the series. … With Haslem starting, James jumped center for the Heat, winning the opening tip. … Among those in the crowd was New York Knicks center Amare Stoudemire, who sat in the front row across from the Heat bench. … Rivers, on playoff life on the road, “I’ve always thought, at least for the second unit, the role players, it’s easier to play defense than it is to make shots on the road. You’re not as comfortable offensively.”