Heat 104, Celtics 101
MIAMI (AP)—A seven-point deficit with seven minutes remaining became just another entry on the rapidly growing list of troubles overcome this season by the Miami Heat.
Miami erased the deficit with a 15-2 burst, and remained solidly in contention for home-court advantage in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 104-101 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. Miami trails Milwaukee—a 116-107 winner over Washington—by 1 1/2 games in the battle for fourth place.
The win was Miami’s 10th straight at home and lifted the team to 39-39 overall—its first time at the .500 mark since Nov. 6, 2001, a span of 238 games.
“Every night, you don’t know who’s going to do it, but you know somebody’s going to do it,” said Heat center Brian Grant. “It’s the attitude and character of every individual in here.”
Miami started the season with seven straight losses, yet could be the NBA’s first team since Cleveland in 1995-96 to bounce back from such a bad start and wind up with a winning record. The Heat won their first postseason spot in three years on Tuesday night when Toronto beat Cleveland.
“I don’t think our guys will ever quit on anything,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They will not let anything go, because they know we’ve come back to win enough times before.”
There also wasn’t any quit in Boston, which rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit and seemed to be in control until Miami’s last-gasp rally. Paul Pierce had 31 points for the Celtics, but missed what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining. Miami controlled the rebound and Wade made one free throw for what turned out to be the final margin.
Chucky Atkins’ desperation 3-pointer missed at the final buzzer, ending the Celtics’ hopes of moving a step closer toward clinching their own playoff spot. They still lead idle Philadelphia by two games in the race for the East’s final berth; both teams have four games remaining.
“Like I told the guys, if we play with that kind of intensity like we had in the second half, we’re not going to have problems going into the playoffs,” Pierce said.
Boston led 94-87 following a jumper by Pierce with 6:47 left, yet the lead quickly vanished. Wade hit a pair of free throws with 3:18 left to put Miami ahead for good at 97-96, and the lead stretched to 102-96 before the Celtics scored again.
Jiri Welsch’s long 3-pointer with 12.6 seconds left brought Boston to 102-101, but the Celtics never again had the upper hand.
“We had a couple of opportunities to sneak out a win and it didn’t happen,” Atkins said. “There’s no need to complain and be second-guessing about it.”
Atkins had 12 of his 16 points in the third quarter for the Celtics, who outscored Miami 31-19 in the period and pulled into an 80-all tie. But their chances fizzled out down the stretch, as they missed eight of 11 shots and made four turnovers in the final 6:12.
“That was a pretty intense game,” Celtics coach John Carroll said. “If you weren’t focused tonight on either side, you were going to pay for it.”
Miami used a 24-8 run in the second quarter to build what was a 15-point lead. Rafer Alston—who extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer to 44—had 10 points during that burst, which gave Miami a 50-35 lead with 4:22 left.
All told, the Heat put up 37 points in the second quarter and led 61-49 at halftime. But they shot 23.5 percent in the third quarter and the cushion quickly evaporated.
“We know we’re going to fight it out to the end,” Alston said. “We prevailed, and that’s good, especially going into the playoffs. Almost everygame should be like this in the playoffs.”
Pierce was 10-for-10 from the foul line in the first half; his teammates were a combined 5-for-8. He rolled his right ankle with 12.6 seconds left after coming down on Alston’s foot, and had the joint in a large ice bucket following the game. … Miami’s last 10-game home winning streak was in the 1999-2000 season. … Boston is 12-8 since acquiring Atkins from Detroit. … Walter McCarty was just 1-for-9 for the Celtics. … Defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins were part of the selloutcrowd.