One night after the Oklahoma City Thunder went into San Antonio and shocked the Spurs in Game 5 of their playoff series, the Boston Celtics duplicated the feat, knocking off the Heat in Miami Tuesday night in a win that places LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co. one more defeat from extinction.
It is not a place anyone in the 305 area code expected.
Boston’s thrilling 94-90 triumph — it’s third in succession — gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals and an opportunity to return to the NBA Finals with a victory Thursday night at home.
“We’re just hanging in there,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his team overcoming a slow start and several Miami rallies. “I told our guys, ‘The longer we’re in the game the better we’ll play.’ ”
Rivers was right. Boston started the game cold, fell behind by as much as 13 points but never out of reach. Kevin Garnett (26 points, 11 rebounds) was the only Celtic to shoot the ball effectively throughout the night, but contributions along the way from many players kept Boston in striking distance.
Finally, in a barn-burner fourth quarter, Miami seemed to shrink in the big moment while Boston flourished in it. The weight of the pressure collapsed the Heat, which was unable to make the key plays in the decisive moments. It might have helped if coach Eric Spolestra had played forward Chris Bosh more, but he did not. Bosh played just 14 minutes in his return from nine missed games because of an abdominal strain. Rather, it was the Celtics getting things done.
For instance, Boston made its last nine foul shots. Garnett had a key late-game jumper, a blocked shot of a LeBron James layup and two foul shots in the final two minutes. Point guard Rajon Rondo shot just 3-for-15 but had 13 assists, including a memorable pass off a rebound in one motion to reserve forward Michael Pietrus, who nailed his second three-point shot, this one from the right baseline. Ray Allen made two free throws in the last 20 seconds and Paul Pierce stared down James and buried a three-point jumper that gave the Celtics the winning cushion at 90-86.
Meanwhile, on the other end, the Heat, which got 27 points from Wade, at times struggled with the Celtics’ changing defenses and simply did not function like an organized team down the stretch.
“We wouldn’t want to be in this situation but we never get too high or too low in a series,” said James, who had 34 points and 13 rebounds. ”We had an opportunity to come home and take a lead, but we didn’t. So we have to go up to Boston and win a game.”
“I asked a lot of our guys — maybe too much — and they came through,” Rivers said.
But Rivers warned: ”We’ve done nothing. We’re playing a heck of a basketball team. So just because we’re going to Boston, I told them, we have to play. They’re not going to give it to us. We have to go get it.”