By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
BOSTON (AP) _ Rajon Rondo delivered the trash talk at halftime
and the big plays in overtime.
And after one final defensive stand _ maybe assisted by a Garden
ghost _ the Boston Celtics were two wins away from an improbable
chance to play for another championship.
Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists, and scored the final three
points of the Celtics’ 93-91 overtime victory over the Miami Heat
on Sunday night that evened the Eastern Conference finals at two
Getting a huge break when LeBron James fouled out for the first
time since joined the Heat, the Celtics recovered after blowing an
18-point lead in regulation and moved two games away from a third
trip to the NBA finals in five years.
Garnett added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Celtics, while
Paul Pierce scored 23 points before fouling out. Ray Allen finished
with 16 points.
“Stops,” Rondo said when asked what was the difference in the
tight game. “I think we executed offensively, came up with some
lucky plays and we got stops at the end.”
James had 29 points and Wade scored 20 after another dismal
start for the Heat, who host Game 5 on Tuesday.
“Not stressed the series is tied 2-2,” James said. “It’s
great basketball, great competition. We wanted to get one up here
and we didn’t.”
In a game that started as a Celtics blowout and turned into a
foul- and tension-filled fourth quarter, followed by the second
overtime in this series, the Celtics held on when Wade missed a
potential winning 3-pointer on the last possession.
“It was a good look. It was online but didn’t want to go in,”
Wade said. “Got the shot off I wanted and that is all you can ask
Celtics coach Doc Rivers had his own unusual reasoning for
Wade’s oh-so-close shot.
“Red wasn’t going to let that go in. Not in the Boston
Garden,” he said of former coach Red Auerbach.
Mickael Pietrus drew James’ sixth foul and grabbed two huge
offensive rebounds that extended consecutive possessions for the
Celtics, who lost Game 4 in overtime in a second-round series
against the Heat last year with a chance to tie the series.
This time, they overcame their second-half stall on the
offensive end by limiting the Heat to just one basket in overtime,
by Udonis Haslem, who finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds.
“At the end you have a chance to win after 50-plus minutes and
losing the MVP. Hey, you’ll take that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra
Rondo’s layup gave the Celtics a 92-91 lead with 2:34 left, and
neither team scored again until he made a free throw with 21
seconds to play. Wade, already finding it tough to locate any room
with Chris Bosh out and then having to do it James also on the
sideline, saw his potential winning attempt bounce off the rim as
“I don’t ever think I’ve seen that before,” Allen said of
James and Pierce fouling out. “But Rondo’s on the floor, I’m on
the floor, Kevin’s on the floor, Wade’s on the floor. All that has
to happen at that point is the game has to be won. We don’t care
what it looks like. We had plenty.”
In what could have been the final Beantown game for the Celtics’
Big Three, Boston scored 61 points in a sensational first half that
concluded with some televised trash talk from Rondo. But the
Celtics managed only 12 points in the third quarter, and Wade
finally got going after managing just eight points on 2-of-11
shooting in the first half.
“Our execution in the first half was flawless,” Rivers said.
“It was as good as maybe we’ve had. And then we just got away from
With the Celtics down by two, Pierce and Rondo made consecutive
layups for an 85-83 edge with 3:08 to go in regulation. But with
the Celtics up three, they lost James, who was wide open with
plenty of time to set himself for a 3-pointer that evened it at 89
with 37.5 seconds left.
Garnett was called for an offensive foul on the next possession,
giving the Heat the ball back with 21 seconds left. But they passed
it around too long, leaving them with a long forced attempt from
Haslem that was well off before the buzzer.
The videoboard kept encouraging fans to get louder, as if they
needed any prompting in what could have been the final time they
got to watch the Big Three together.
Fans who left and stayed away for years during the Celtics’ lean
years started coming back in the 2007-08 season after Garnett and
Allen were traded to Boston to form join an All-Star trio with
Pierce, the Garden almost always full as the Celtics won a
championship, played in two finals and returned the franchise back
to its traditional place atop the East.
But the aging group was nearly broken up when the Celtics
sputtered through the first half of the shortened season, and it
seems doubtful they’ll be back together after this season.
The fans grew even louder when the Celtics ran out to a 14-4
lead after consecutive 3-pointers by Pierce and Allen. The Celtics
went to Garnett for their next two baskets, pushing it to 18-4, and
when Pierce’s 3-pointer made it 21-6, it was the third time in four
games they had a lead of at least 15 points.
And after leading the Celtics to the highest-scoring half the
Heat have surrendered this postseason, Rondo even fired a shot at
the visitors, saying in his televised halftime interview what was
working for Boston was the Heat “complaining and crying to the
referees in transition.”
The feisty point guard didn’t back down after the game, either.
“What I said was true,” Rondo said. “I don’t take back what I
said. That’s what it is.”
It was so hard for the Heat early that James didn’t even make
his first basket _ the Celtics accidentally tipped in his miss, and
it was credited to him as the closest player. But Miami finally got
untracked when Garnett left for a rest, getting a number of easy
baskets to get within six before the Celtics regained control and
went ahead 34-23 after one.
The Celtics made 16 of their first 25 shots and seemed intent on
outhustling the Heat to the ball on the rare times they did miss.
And the Heat, who insisted they would be more aggressive, didn’t
shoot their first free throw until James was fouled while making a
basket with 6:53 remaining in the first half.
Boston pushed the lead to 18 when Pierce shook off a foul and
tossed in a long, one-legged jumper with 3:12 left in the second
quarter, and the Celtics were ahead 61-47 at the break.
The Celtics averaged 89.1 points on 44 percent shooting in an
ugly second-round survival against Philadelphia, then managed a
measly 79 points in the opener of this series, the old guys looking
like their best basketball was well behind them. They seemed to
have solved their offensive woes, then managed only 12 points in
the third quarter, losing Rondo along the way to his fourth foul.
It was down to 73-68 after three, and the Heat tied it for the
first time when James’ layup made it 74-all with 8:54 remaining.
Norris Cole’s layup on the next possession gave Miami the lead for
the first time and it stayed tight from there.
NOTES: Bosh missed his ninth straight game with a lower
abdominal strain. Spoelstra said his status is still out
indefinitely. … The Heat changed centers again, starting Joel
Anthony. … James said there’s no playoff silence or anything else
behind his absence from Twitter. James, who has more than 4.6
million followers, hasn’t posted on the site since April 27, the
day before the playoffs began. “My fans, I’m still with them, but
I haven’t been on there,” he said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)