BOSTON – This time LeBron James couldn't get criticized for missing the last shot or passing the ball in the final seconds. It wasn't possible Sunday night since the Miami Heat forward had the same amount of control on the outcome as a Boston Celtics fan in the rafters of section 312 at TD Banknorth Garden.
A stoic James stood with his arms folded at the end of overtime in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals after fouling out for the first time since 2008. With no James and Chris Bosh unavailable due to injury, it was back to Dwyane Wade's old Heat days as he had the ball in his hands with the Celtics ahead 93-91 as the clocked ticked down. James helplessly watched from the other side of the floor as Wade's game-winning 3-point attempt didn't save the day and the Celtics tied the series 2-2.
"I don't foul out," James said after scoring a game-high 29 points. "If I'm going to foul out, that sixth foul, I wish I would have earned it [and it] had actually been a foul on me. Whatever."
[Photos: Game 4 slideshow]
James received his sixth foul, an offensive one, in the post with 1:51 left in OT after getting tangled up and going to the ground with Mickael Pietrus. The Celtic defender got veteran referee Joey Crawford to bite on the thespian act. James had four offensive fouls Sunday and the deciding whistle happened with Boston ahead 92-91. Celtics fans roared at a fever pitch as James strolled to the bench.
"It's a typical night in the Boston Garden," Heat president Pat Riley said before exiting his team's postgame locker room.
James fouled out for the first time in 107 career postseason contests. It was also the first time the nine-year veteran had received six personal fouls since April 2, 2008 at Charlotte.
"I was just trying to stay behind him. He tried to post me up and he went too hard," a smiling Pietrus said. "It was a good move for our team."
Said James: "I don't think I fouled him. I don't think it was a foul."
Celtics forward Paul Pierce breathed a sigh of relief afterward. Unlike James, fouling out has become commonplace of late for Pierce as he has done so in three of the past five games. Like James, Pierce was his team's leading scorer with 23 points in 39 minutes. Pierce fouled out with 4:22 remaining in the extra period.
"It was like chess," Ray Allen said. "They took our queen, then we took their queen."
Wade has thrived in the clutch more than anyone in Heat history. But with the Celtics' double-teams making him claustrophobic in this series, the All-Star hasn't had too many easy shots. A game after not making it to the free-throw line, Wade missed 15 of 22 field-goal attempts. His final misfire, in the closing seconds of an ugly overtime, happened one-on-one against Marquis Daniels.
Instead of taking the ball to the basket for the tie, Wade pulled up for a home run 3-pointer.
"Red [Auerbach] wasn't going to let that go in," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought it was good when it left his hands.
The Heat haven't played with urgency in its two games in Boston. James though has played hard from start to finish in each contest, scoring 34 and 29 points, respectively. But with Wade struggling, a return from Bosh nowhere in sight and a supporting cast that hasn't been very supportive, the last thing Miami could ill afford Sunday was a disqualified James watching in the clutch.
"It's very difficult because I know how to play the game of basketball and I don't need an advantage or holding somebody or pushing somebody down," James said. "But whatever. We lost."
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