Celtics Shoot Past Heat, 115-107

Paul Pierce scored 27 points, Kevin Garnett added 24 points and nine rebounds, and the Celtics made their first eight shots of the fourth quarter to hold off the Heat 115-107 on Tuesday night.

Rajon Rondo posted double-digit assists for the 18th straight game, extending the NBA’s longest such streak in 20 years with an 18-point, 15-assist effort. Brandon Bass added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Avery Bradley scored 11 for the Celtics, who shot a season-high 61 percent and survived two possessions where Miami could have tied the score in the final quarter.

“We talk about it in fighting terms,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We told them today before the game, you’re in a boxing match, you expect to get hit. They’re going to hit you. They did and we withstood it. I thought that was important for our team.”

LeBron James finished with 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for Miami, which got 20 from Dwyane Wade and 18 from Mario Chalmers. Chris Bosh finished with 13 on 5-for-13 shooting for Miami, which has gone 5-5 in its last 10 games.

The Celtics beat Miami 91-72 in Boston on April 1, a game the Heat called “unacceptable” after establishing season-lows in scoring and shooting.

This one won’t sit much better with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, who ousted the Celtics in five games from last year’s playoffs and could see them in the second round of the upcoming postseason. No team had shot better than 55 percent against the Heat this season, and Boston’s 115 points were two shy of matching a season-high against Miami.

“We left Boston feeling awful at our performance,” James said. “I don’t feel as bad tonight. Those guys, they were locked in. Not only did they make their open shots, they made their contested shots. … When you’ve got it going like that, just tip your hat off. We tip our hat off to them tonight. They won it.”

Boston improved to 18-7 since the All-Star break, and dealt Miami a blow in the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Heat fell three games behind Chicago after the Bulls beat the New York Knicks later Tuesday night.

“It took a while,” Rondo said, “but we’re peaking at the right time.”

A layup by Wade got Miami within 108-103 with 2:22 left, before Garnett made a high-arcing jumper that dropped softly through the net, his 11th make in 14 shots.

That pretty much described the night. Whenever Miami got close, the Celtics found a way to hold them off.

“It’s a game of runs,” Pierce said. “You have one of the best teams in the NBA at home. You know they’re going to make a run. That’s what makes them who they are. They know how to turn it on. We did a good job of holding their runs to a minimum.”

Miami had two shots to tie early in the fourth after being down by as many as 18 earlier, before Garnett made jump shots on four straight possessions, the average length of those makes being 19 feet.

A 10-0 run early in the first quarter gave Boston a quick lead — and that wasn’t even the Celtics’ best run of the opening period. Boston scored the last 11 of the first, the run actually becoming 13-0 when Garnett scored to open the second quarter, and Boston’s lead was 35-22.

Everything the Celtics wanted, they got. Boston shot 61 percent in the first quarter, 62 percent in the second. Rivers used eight players, all of them making multiple shots by halftime. Of them, the only one who failed to make at least half his shots was Bass, who more than made up for that with six first-half rebounds.

Here’s how well the Celtics were shooting: Miami went into the break shooting 51 percent from the field, 60 percent from 3-point range and 78 percent from the foul line — and Boston was at least 10 percentage points better in every department.

“None of us were expecting that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To give up 115 points on our home floor, that’s not our style. And we’re being made to feel uncomfortable right now. That’s really the residual of the last three weeks or so. This is probably the one silver lining out of it, is our group, staff and players, we’re getting to know each other now on the level that is needed for us to prepare for the playoffs.

“We all know we have to take a real big step forward as a basketball team,” Spoelstra added.

The next chance for that “big step” comes Thursday, when the Heat visit Chicago.

Down by 18 in the first half, Miami cut the deficit to 65-57 at halftime. James closed it with a 3, punching the air as the shot dropped.

Even with that, every moment of the second half was an uphill battle.

And the Celtics weren’t being caught.

Miami got within five twice in the third, with Rondo answering both times to make it a three-possession game again. The Celtics held the Heat to 36 percent shooting in the quarter, keeping the eight-point lead entering the fourth at 89-81.

The Heat had two chances to tie early in the fourth, after starting the period on a 7-0 run. The first of those slipped away when Bosh failed to finish off a three-point play opportunity by missing from the line. The next came when Udonis Haslem missed from the left baseline with 9:17 left, and Boston’s answer that time was absolute.

Allen made a catch-and-shoot 3 for a 94-89 lead, and then Garnett just took over.

“When they shoot like that, it’s going to be tough to beat them,” Wade said. “Obviously, we can always do things better. But give them credit.”

NOTES: Alex Terrio, a fan wearing a Heat T-shirt, won a 2012 Kia Optima for making a halfcourt shot in between the third and fourth quarters. “Shock,” Terrio said. … James had 11 points in the third quarter for the third consecutive game. … Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were at the game, as was Chicago Bears star Julius Peppers.

Bookmark and Share

LeBron James and Miami Heat Put Boston Celtics on Brink

Dwyane Wade added 28 points as the Heat moved closer to vanquishing the defending Eastern Conference champions by taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game Five is on Wednesday in Miami where the Heat will attempt to finish off the Celtics.

“What we’re going to face on Wednesday will be our greatest challenge of this season,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “To put away a champion will be the toughest thing we’ve had to do to this point.”

In last season’s playoffs, Boston eliminated James and the , and Wade and the Heat on their way to the NBA Finals, but the Celtics are finding themselves overpowered by Miami’s new partnership.

Chris Bosh, who signed with Miami along with James in the summer to form a “Big Three” with Wade to challenge Boston’s reign, added 20 points and 12 rebounds including a crucial tip-in with 24 seconds left in OT to give Miami a 95-90 lead.

In a see-saw fourth quarter, the Heat held the Celtics to just 13 points to force the extra session as Paul Pierce missed a potential game-winner as the buzzer ended regulation time.

Miami scored the first six points of overtime to put the veteran Celtics on their heels.

Pierce finished with 27 points and Ray Allen chipped in 17 for Boston.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles, Editing by Larry Fine)

Bookmark and Share

Knicks-Celtics a First-Rate Drama, With Second-Guesses on the Side

Two heartbreaking defeats stand as a Rorschach test for anyone trying to get a grip on who the Knicks are and where they are going.

Those who see as a basketball messiah saw the proof in his 42-point tour de force in Game 2. Those who see only a flawed, me-first star with no conscience seized on his well-contested 26-foot jumper in the finals seconds of Game 1.

is either coaching brilliantly (allowing the undermanned Knicks to keep pace with a superior team) or terribly (costing them chances to win both games).

The , too, are bursting with glass-half-something possibilities. They are 2-0, a testament to their brilliant clutch-time play. But their struggles only reinforce concerns that the Celtics are aging, worn out and primed for a fall.

How could a Knicks team without Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups possibly stay with the defending Eastern Conference champions? How could Jeffries, Bill Walker and Roger Mason Jr. come so close to beating Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo?

seemed to wonder that himself Tuesday, saying, “I thought we were lucky to win.” When Rivers flatly pronounced, “I’m extremely happy,” it elicited chuckles from the assembled news media. He looked anything but.

In two games, the Celtics have been exactly 5 points and 24.9 seconds better than the Knicks. Rivers’s team is underachieving, despite the 2-0 lead. He has every reason for concern. And D’Antoni has every reason to feel encouraged as the series shifts to Madison Square Garden.

Stoudemire’s back should be loose by Friday night, and perhaps Billups’s left knee will be ready, too. A Knicks team at full strength, on its home court, should be bursting with confidence.

Then they just need to work on the details.

There were valid questions about D’Antoni’s decisions in Tuesday’s 96-93 defeat at TD Garden, chief among them: Why was Jeffries, the Knicks’ worst offensive player, featured on the most critical possession of the game? Anthony erred Sunday night when he chose to shoot a 26-footer over two defenders with time running down. But he made the right play late Tuesday, when the double team came and he passed to a wide-open Jeffries under the basket in the final seconds, and the Knicks trailing by 94-93.

Jeffries should have immediately attempted the layup, as he later admitted. Instead, he tried passing to Walker and lost the ball to Garnett. This might have been Jeffries’s own insecurity at work. Despite standing 6 feet 11 inches, he is a poor finisher at the rim , and an even worse free-throw shooter (42.1 percent).

Anthony cannot be faulted for hitting an open teammate near the basket. If anything, the Knicks will need more intelligent passing from Anthony if they want to win this series, or become an Eastern Conference power in the future.

The responsibility lies with Jeffries, and with D’Antoni for leaving him in the game. Jeffries had scored the go-ahead layup with 19.3 seconds left, so perhaps D’Antoni was simply showing confidence in him. But Ronny Turiaf, who is much sturdier and (and 62 percent from the line), seemed like a better choice. Turiaf might also have stood up to Garnett, who easily backed Jeffries into the paint for the winning 5-foot shot with 13.3 seconds left.

Then there was the Knicks’ apparent lack of readiness to chase down Delonte West in the backcourt after he received an inbounds pass with 4.1 seconds left. By the time a rubbery-legged Anthony reached West and fouled him, just six-tenths of a second remained.

D’Antoni had spent all of his timeouts, so the Knicks could not advance the ball and run a final play.

On the macro level, all are valid points of criticism. But they seem a little nitpicky in context. It is a near miracle that the Knicks, down two starters, with a lineup of misfits surrounding Anthony, were even in position to win the game. If D’Antoni deserves criticism for a few decisions, then he also deserves credit for the Knicks’ inspired performance under extreme duress.

The Knicks might still have pulled out the victory had Walker (0 for 11) hit a 3-point attempt with 2:03 left, or if Toney Douglas had not lost the ball to Rondo with 1:28 to go, if Landry Fields had done anything at all, or if Anthony had made just one more contested jump shot in the fourth quarter.

Anthony went 14 for 30 from the field, with 17 rebounds, 6 assists and just one turnover in 44 minutes. It was a performance for the record books, except for the loss. But it makes no more sense to blame Anthony for missing 16 shots than it does to blame D’Antoni for a few tactical decisions under the circumstances.

The Knicks’ clutch-shooting point guard was on the bench with a sore knee. Their All-Star power forward was in the locker room with a seized-up back.

Anthony needed better options when he was double-teamed. D’Antoni needed a proven backup or two to plug into the lineup.

But the Knicks sent all of their depth to Denver in February, to acquire Anthony and a 34-year-old Billups, whose injury problems can hardly be shocking given his age and mileage.

The Knicks will need another off-season to replenish a roster that is badly in need of shooters, playmakers and skilled big men.

All the Celtics need is to play like the Celtics again.

Bookmark and Share