They'll look at the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics both losing crucial Game 4 contests in the conference semifinals — losses that sent the Lakers home and put Boston on the brink — and they'll talk about windows closing and chapters ending, singing songs of fading glory. They'll make this sound almost sweet — a simulcast Bob Ross sunset for two exiting champions.
But that's not what this is; not really, at least. What happened in Dallas on Sunday afternoon was one team with all-universe shooters and an abiding belief blitzing the scattered shards of another out of the playoffs. What happened in Boston on Monday night was the best players on one team making more good plays at important times than the best players on another.
It's not an epic poem or a moral-packing fable. It's basketball. And in Game 4, the Heat played it better when it counted, riding their Big Three to score a 98-90 overtime victory and take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven second-round series with the Celtics.
Forty-eight hours after allowing the Celtics to score at a blistering 120-points-per-100-possessions pace, Miami weathered its own offensive struggles (just 44.3 percent from the floor and 17 turnovers) by putting the clamps on Doc Rivers' squad. The Heat held every Celtic not named Paul Pierce to a combined 40 percent from the field, grinding Boston's Game 3 efficiency into a sluggish 94.7-points-per-100 gruel and taking a hard-fought, defensive contest to earn a split at the TD Garden.
Miami now heads back to the American Airlines Arena, site of Heat victories in Games 1 and 2, looking to close the series out on Wednesday.
"What we're going to face Wednesday will be our greatest challenge of this season," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during his postgame press conference. "It will be the toughest thing we have [had] to do up to this point ... to put away a champion."
(Coaches get caught up in that stuff, too.)
LeBron James led all players in both points (35 on 12-for-28 shooting) and floor time (50 minutes, 17 seconds) in the win, adding 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Dwyane Wade added 28 points on 8-for-18 shooting, nine rebounds and four assists in more than 45 minutes of work.
"I looked at [Game 4] as probably one of the biggest games of my career coming into the game, knowing what was at stake," James said during a postgame press conference. "... We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to come out and just try to do whatever it took to help our team win this ballgame. We did that."
Pierce was the Celtics' lone offensive bright spot, scoring 27 points on 10-for-20 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists. Ray Allen chipped in 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting in a team-leading 45 minutes, 11 seconds of playing time.
Boston had an opportunity to win Game 4 and knot the series at two after James turned the ball over with 19 seconds remaining in regulation. What Rivers drew up in the Celtics' huddle failed to come to life on the court, though, and a 15-foot jumper by Pierce in isolation against James found iron.
"Yeah, we didn't execute the play — I'll just leave it at that," Rivers said after the game. "It's a play we've run several times, and we just didn't execute it. [It] was supposed to be a pick-and-roll with a flare and none of it happened, which was unusual for us."
Boston seemed to run out of gas at the end of the fourth quarter and Miami capitalized, dominating overtime. James shook off his late-fourth-quarter turnover to hit a jumper, notch an assist and draw a key (and controversial) offensive foul on Pierce in the frame's first three minutes, as the Heat scored the period's first six points.
The power forward matchup, viewed by many as the series' pivotal head-to-head battle and a bellwether for both teams, saw a 180-degree reversal of fortune from Game 3. Coming off a poor performance that he himself attributed in part to nerves, Chris Bosh got the better of Kevin Garnett, posting 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting and 12 rebounds — including a huge tip-in of a James miss to give Miami a 95-90 lead with 24 seconds remaining in overtime — to go with two steals and just one turnover in just under 45 minutes of run.
"We said going into the game, and coach said as well, we need 12 rebounds from Chris, and he got 12 rebounds," Wade said during his postgame press conference. "And he got the biggest rebound of the game with that tip-in. He really stood up to the challenge."
The moment seemed cathartic for Bosh, who screamed and pounded his chest after hitting the basket to put the Heat up five.
"You know, honestly, that kind of emotion, I think, is always needed and it's just how I felt at the time," Bosh said after the game. "It's just so intense, just going through that whole time — you're tired, you're into it, but it was a one-possession game up to that point, and that kind of gave us a little bit of a cushion at the time."
The Heat pulled away in the final 20 seconds, as the Celtics missed two 3-pointers and Miami made 3-of-4 free throws. In all, Miami outscored Boston 12-4 in the extra period.
Garnett, meanwhile, was unable to replicate his Saturday night success. While he was his typical active self on the defensive end and led the Celtics with 10 rebounds, Garnett struggled with his shot throughout, hitting just 1-of-10 field-goal attempts to finish with seven points. Asked if he thought Garnett looked more reluctant on Monday than in Game 3, Rivers said, "You know, I don't know."
"We have to get him down [on the post] more; we tried," the coach added. "I think he was looking to be a passer, to me, more than being an aggressive scorer. And that was that."
Playing with a heavily wrapped and very sore left elbow after dislocating it in Game 3, Rajon Rondo turned in a muted 10 points and five assists. He said after the game that he "had a little trouble going left," and that he'd definitely be in the Boston lineup on Wednesday.
With the definite exception of Delonte West (10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, including a huge 3-pointer to tie the game at 81 with three minutes remaining in regulation) and the possible exception of Jeff Green (seven points and improved defense and energy), both benches were non-factors.
After doing precious little in his Game 3 return, a glacial Shaquille O'Neal played 3 1/2 inconsequential minutes. Heat forward Udonis Haslem made his first appearance since Nov. 20, 2010, heaving a horrendous brick, picking up two fouls and earning a technical foul in 2:46, which is at least efficient garbage. Glen Davis still cannot post up James Jones, and Mike Miller still cannot throw a ball into the Atlantic Ocean.
And yet, on a night when Miami got nothing from its reserves, it got 83 points from the three guys it paid to bring another NBA title to South Beach. Come Wednesday night, they could be one step closer to that goal.
"That's our goal — our goal is to win the next game," James said. "Our home floor, our home fans, they have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. We're going to come out with the same game plan from the last four games and give our fans what they want to see."
- Boston Celtics