He rose to the rim, tapped the ball home, then landed and unleashed a series of primal screams. Bosh, the Miami Heat star who admitted to being overhyped in a Game 3 clunker, was now properly hyped for the biggest moment of his playoff career.
That timely tip-in, with 24.2 seconds left in overtime, provided the critical cushion as Miami secured and absolute command of this Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics.
, Dwyane Wade and Bosh combined for 83 points as the Heat took a 3-1 series lead. Redemption is now in reach for all of them — for James, whose title hopes were crushed by the Celtics twice before, for Wade, who had not won here in four years, and for Bosh, whose mercurial play and personality often leave fans frustrated.
They can close out the series Wednesday night in Miami, where they are 5-0 in the playoffs.
“No doubt this is the biggest game yet, to date, for this team,” said Wade, who had 28 points, including a tough, off-balance, 22-footer that gave Miami a 92-86 lead in overtime.
Moments later, after Paul Pierce had cut Miami’s lead to 93-90, Bosh rose for the tip-in that effectively put the game away.
Bosh had taken a predictable beating after scoring just 6 points in Game 3, and was chided for admitting later that “my emotions got the best of me” — a comment that some interpreted as him being nervous amid the TD Garden cacophony. He was perfectly steady Monday, with 20 points, 12 rebounds and superb defense on Kevin Garnett, who finished with 7 points.
The whooping and chest-pounding was justified.
“Honestly, that kind of emotion I think is always needed,” Bosh said, “and it’s just how I felt at the time.”
Forty-eight hours earlier, the Celtics had celebrated an inspirational victory on the parquet. Now they find themselves on the brink of elimination, with doubts throughout the lineup.
Rajon Rondo played capably, with his injured left elbow thickly padded, but he could not match the dramatics he displayed Saturday night. Rondo had 10 points and 5 assists, but he was left on the bench for all but 1 minute 51 seconds in overtime as Coach Doc Rivers turned to the healthier, better-shooting Delonte West.
“I don’t know what the right call was,” Rivers said, adding, “We needed more scoring on the floor.”
The Celtics led by 11 points in the first half, by 8 in the third quarter and by 5 early in the fourth. But they scored just 17 points over the last 18:12, going 6 for 25 with eight turnovers.
Pierce had 27 points and scored the Celtics’ only field goal in overtime. He also committed a costly turnover when he plowed into James for an offensive foul early.
After a quiet Game 3 (15 points), James reasserted himself and claimed the biggest victory of his career in Boston. A year ago, the Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers on this court, an event that put in motion James’s eventual defection to Miami.
James was erratic and at times distant last spring. On Monday, he left no doubt about his intentions, finishing with a team-high 35 points and 14 rebounds. James had 11 points in the Heat’s fourth-quarter rally, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 84-84 with 2:01 left, just after Ray Allen had hit a 3-pointer.
“Huge game,” James said. “I looked at it as probably one of the biggest games of my career, coming into the game, knowing what was at stake. I approached it that way.”
The Heat had lost 11 straight games in this building, a streak that began when the Celtics united their Big Three of Pierce, Garnett and Allen in 2007.
A newer, younger, more athletic Big Three is now rising in their place. The Heat is now 30-3 when James, Wade and Bosh combine for at least 75 points. They overpowered the Celtics’ Big Three, who combined for just 51 points.
Wade — who cemented his villain status here with his Game 3 takedown of Rondo — relished the role, sinking free throws and jumpers while Celtics fans periodically chanted mildly profane slogans.
James nearly blew the game for Miami when he lost his dribble on Miami’s final possession of the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 86-86. The Celtics’ last chance to win in regulation ended with confusion and a broken play, and Pierce taking a tough 20-foot fadeaway as time expired.
“We kind of screwed it up,” Allen said, a characterization that seemed ill-fitting for a team that has won the Eastern Conference twice in three years with steady execution.
Miami has been struggling since last fall to close out games with precision and grace, with Wade and James alternately failing in clutch situations. This night was a breakthrough of sorts on that issue as well.
“We’ve been through a lot of pain and heartache to get to a point where we feel confident at the end of games,” Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We all know we struggled earlier in the year.” He added, “I think if we didn’t go through all those struggles, end of games, against good teams, we probably wouldn’t feel as confident as we do.”