Heat hold off exhausted Celtics in OT
MIAMI — On a night LeBron James opened 1-for-6 from the field and Dwyane Wade scored just two first-half points, the Miami Heat found a way. Barely.
Even if it took a bit longer than planned.
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo was back to his dominant self, yet it still wasn’t enough for the Celtics, as they fell to a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series with a 115-111 overtime loss at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“This group had resolve,” Wade said.
In a game that offered some of the best both teams had to offer, the Heat ultimately prevailed behind 34 points from James and 23 from Wade, surviving an 44-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound effort from Rondo and 21 points from Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who fouled out in late in regulation.
The Heat overcame an early 15-point deficit, the largest comeback in the franchise’s playoff history. The previous best were a pair of 14-point comebacks.
“We kept fighting, and Coach kept telling us to keep going,” Heat guard Mario Chalmers said.
The ultimate warrior in this one, though, was Rondo, who played all 53 minutes.
“He was absolutely phenomenal,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s tough to have him play that way and not win the game.”
The Heat appeared to put it away on a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter from reserve forward Shane Battier, a pair of free throws from James and a jumper from forward Udonis Haslem.
But the Celtics stormed back to tie it 99-99 at the end of regulation on a 3-pointer from guard Ray Allen, who seemed to regain his stroke and his confidence.
“They don’t leave me often, but they left me that time,” said Allen, who shot 5-for-11 and scored 13 points.
Game 3 is Friday night in Boston.
“It just can’t be any other way with this team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Celtics, “and it has to be the hard way.”
The Heat put it away in overtime when the Celtics basically ran out of gas.
“You don’t throw it away,” Rivers said of the loss. “You hold it for 24 hours, and then you move on. We’ve been very good about that.”
With James hitting a pair of 3-pointers early in the third quarter, the Heat were able to close within five points.
But a third-quarter gamble also proved costly, with Spoelstra electing to open the second half with Joel Anthony at center in place of Ronny Turiaf. Anthony then was forced to the bench with his fourth foul with 9:34 remaining in the third period.
However, Haslem entered for Anthony, helping energize the Heat, amid the continued solid play of Chalmers.
In fact, when Haslem scored with 2:55 in the third, it put the Heat ahead for first time since 7-6 in the first quarter.
“We were able to stay into it mentally,” Spoelstra said. “That’s where I think we’re different now.”
And they were able to survive Rondo.
“It’s kind of irrelevant. We lost,” Rondo said of his statistical brilliance. “I felt fine. It was a mental grind for me individually and us as a team. There’s no turning back, it’s the conference finals.”
The Celtics, with Rondo attacking and Allen again hitting shots, pushed to a 15-point lead early in the second period and went into halftime up 53-46.
It was a first half of considerable concern for the Heat, with Wade scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting before converting a layup with 27 seconds to play in the second quarter, raising concerns of a repeat of his struggles early in the previous round against the Pacers, before he took treatment on his left knee.
Rondo, given space to make outside shots, did just that early, with 22 first-half points, along with seven assists over the first two quarters. Allen made three consecutive shots during one second-quarter stretch.
Chalmers, able to shake free for 3-pointers, led the Heat with 14 first-half points, shooting 3-for-5 from beyond the arc over the opening two periods. James scored 13 in the first half for the Heat, but he was just 3-for-9 from the field.
The Heat played down to the Celtics’ offensive level at the outset, opening 3-for-17 from the field. While the Celtics weren’t much better early, opening 3-for-9 from the field, they were able to push to a 24-16 lead entering the second period behind eight first-quarter points apiece from Paul Pierce and Rondo.
The Heat, who shot 5-for-25 on 3-pointers in Game 1, this time opened 1-for-5 from beyond the arc.
James and Wade were among the Heat players to struggle early. James shot 1-for-6 over the opening 12 minutes, with Wade 0-for-4 from the field in the first quarter. Among James’ misses was a dunk he slammed off the back iron. The Heat closed the period 6-for-22.
Rivers not happy early, with his team called for the game’s first seven fouls, before Rondo finally drew a shooting foul on Chalmers with 1:42 to play in the opening quarter.
Early foul trouble was particularly pronounced for Celtics backup center Greg Stiemsma, who was called for four fouls in 3:02 of first-quarter action before mercifully being pulled by Rivers with 3:16 to play in the quarter.
Celtics power forward Brandon Bass had six rebounds in the first quarter, as many as the Heat’s total in the period. Bass wound up with eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
NOTES: While Rivers had thoughts about giving Allen time off due to ankle issues, the veteran shooting guard remained in the Celtics’ starting lineup. “Ray is Ray,” Rivers said. “Just keep throwing him out there and see what we can get. And if he can’t, go with someone else. But I think right now you have to give him a fighting chance any time.” … Spoelstra said the challenge of defending Kevin Garnett is the Boston forward’s ability to shoot jumpers over anyone. “His release point is probably at 7-5,” Spoelstra said. Garnett finished with 18 points. … James refused to get caught looking ahead when asked about the Spurs’ unbeaten run. “I got to focus on this series,” he said. “I watch that series, and as a fan of it. I see what’s going on, but I understand we have our own series.” … With the NBA Draft lottery Wednesday, Wade reiterated that he thought for sure he would have been taken by his hometown Chicago Bulls in 2003, instead of two picks earlier by the Heat. “After going through the whole process and working out for the Bulls twice, all the signs pointed that way,” he said.