Celtics 90, Heat 62

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BOSTON (AP)—The Boston Celtics found the formula to snap out of their slump: strong defense and weak opponents.

They beat the Miami Heat 90-62 Wednesday night, their third straight win after six consecutive losses. The other two victories came against Cleveland, the NBA’s worst team.

“Sometimes you need those teams to come along,” Boston’s Tony Delk said. “Regardless of who the opponent is, you’ve got to win. You can’t take those teams for granted.”

The Celtics showed that when they lost at Denver, which has the second-worst record, during the losing streak. Against Miami, the team with the third-worst record, the Celtics kept the pressure on from start to finish.

They never trailed, led by at least seven points for all but the first 10 minutes and by at least 15 throughout the second half. Their biggest lead was 88-52 with 5:02 left before a 10-2 Miami run cut the final margin to 28 points.

“It was a great defensive effort by everybody. There was a lot of energy, Boston’s Antoine Walker said.

Paul Pierce scored 28 points for Boston as the Heat tied their lowest-scoring game of the season and scored fewer than 70 points for the eighth time.

Caron Butler had 18 points and Vladimir Stepania 10 for Miami, which dropped to 3-14 in its last 17 games.

The Celtics face much tougher competition in their next game, Friday night against Sacramento.

“You can’t compare Miami to Sacramento,” Pierce said. “We’ve just got to come out and play with the same type of intensity.”

The Celtics had 12 steals and four blocks, and held the Heat to 35-percent shooting. Miami made just four of five free throws and went to the line for the first time with 8:42 left in the third quarter.

“It is beyond humiliating,” Miami coach Pat Riley said. “They were so much better. We were outclassed, outreached. We don’t have many of these games, but their defense was great.”

The Heat, the NBA’s second-lowest scoring team, matched their season low in a 93-62 loss to Detroit on Feb. 17, their most lopsided of the season.

“Embarrassing, no other way to put it,” Miami’s Brian Grant said. “This was the worst performance all year.”

The 62 points were the second-fewest allowed by the Celtics, who beat Denver 77-58 on Jan. 24. But the Celtics had the advantage of three days of practice after Saturday’s win in Cleveland.

“Basketball is all about energy, defense and toughness, and I thought we showed that,” Boston coach Jim O’Brien said.

The score was 35-28 before the Celtics scored the last 11 points of the first half for a 46-28 lead. Miami scored just 10 points in the second quarter.

The Heat closed the gap to 55-40 with an 8-0 run, but the Celtics regained control with an 18-2 surge, led by Pierce’s nine points. That made it 73-42 before LaPhonso Ellis got the next basket, leaving Boston with a 29-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

Miami matched the Celtics in rebounding, 44-44, as Grant had 12 and Stepania 11. But the Heat turned the ball over 22 times to just eight for the Celtics.

“Other than Caron, we didn’t have anybody that could make any plays,” Riley said.

The Celtics had plenty as all 12 players had rebounds and nine had assists.

“Despite having a big lead, I felt our bench continued the way the guysthat played the most did,” O’Brien said.

Notes

Boston C Tony Battie played after missing the previous four games with a sore right knee. … Butler returned after missing one game with a sore leftknee. … Boston point guard J.R. Bremer led his team with eight rebounds.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Miami
B. Grant B. Grant
3-8,  6 Pts
12 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Boston
P. Pierce P. Pierce
11-19,  28 Pts
7 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists