Final, Heat win 93-86: The finish wasn’t as fulfilling as the build-up, but the Celtics can walk away satisfied with their effort in Miami.
The Heat (30-12) needed 29 points, eight rebounds and two steals from LeBron James to survive a hard-nosed effort by the Celtics (14-29). Chris Johnson, signed to the Celtics on a 10-day contract last week, delivered 11 points and numerous hustle plays to give the Celts a chance against the defending champs.
Brandon Bass led the Celtics with 15 points, although he had to leave the game late after colliding with Rajon Rondo. In his third game back from an ACL injury, Rondo had one point, five assists and three turnovers in 25:43.
Fourth quarter, :59.5, Heat 90-86: The Celtics’ second straight miracle in Miami is in trouble now. LeBron James knocks down a pair of free throws (on a bad foul by Jeff Green) to extend the Heat’s lead to two possessions. What sort of tricks do Stevens, Rondo and Johnson have left?
Fourth quarter, 1:20, Heat lead 88-86: The Heat have no answer for Chris Johnson. No, really. Johnson has been everywhere, chasing down loose balls and offensive rebounds to give the Celtics extra possessions. Bass has not returned, but Rondo has. It’s crunchtime.
Fourth quarter, 5:15, game tie 82-82: Erik Spoelstra has a lot of things to talk over with his troops. Namely, how Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey are killing his team.
Johnson has come up with an offensive putback and an and-one layup, while Pressey picked off a Heat pass and dashed downfloor to dish to Kris Humphries for a thunderous dunk to tie the score. Five Celtics now are in double figures, including Johnson, who is on a 10-day contract, with 11 points.
Fourth quarter, 7:00, Heat 79-75: Chris Andersen got an alley-oop dunk, but that wasn’t the worst thing at appeared to happen on Miami’s latest possession. Bass and Rondo collided while defending a pick and roll and Bass went down, clutching his hip or lower back. Bass has played well tonight, leading the club with 16 points, so the Celtics hope it’s nothing serious.
Fourth quarter, 7:48, Heat 77-74: There’s quite the game going on in South Beach. Yeah, it sounds weird to us, too.
The hustling and bustling Celtics are making the Heat sweat, and some unlikely players are leading the way. Kris Humphries, who couldn’t crack the early-season rotation, and Chris Johnson, who wasn’t on the roster a week ago, have come up with big defensive stands or rebounds to keep the Celtics from fading away.
Chris Andersen is 4-for-4 from the field and making up for off nights by Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole. Those three role players are 5-for-17 combined from the field.
End of third quarter, Heat 71-67: Chris Johnson epitomizes the Celtics’ efforts in this game. It’s not pretty but it’s enough to contend with a lackadaisical Miami squad.
A bad pass by Jeff Green nearly turned into a turnover when Johnson fumbled the ball, but Johnson hit the floor to grab the loose ball and found Brandon Bass for a rattling jump shot. Bass now has 12 points, tying Green for the team high, while the Celtics’ shooting percentage creeps upward.
The Celtics committed just two turnovers in the third quarter, which was the main reason they outscored the Heat 27-20 and were able to climb back into the game. Protecting the ball will again be paramount in the fourth for the Celts.
Third quarter, 2:37, Heat 67-61: Phil Pressey has fired up two airballs. Jared Sullinger has caught both. This can’t be a coincidence anymore.
Sully snatched Pressey’s miss and converted the putback to pull the Celtics back within four points, which is as close as they’ve gotten in this half. James answered with a jumper, but the Heat are playing reactive, not proactive, right now.
With Rajon Rondo having played just 17 minutes, the Celtics are in good shape for the fourth quarter if they can just hold close for the rest of the third quarter and the first few minutes of the fourth.
Third quarter, 5:40, Heat 61-55: The Heat should probably turn it on any time now. If not, they could experience deja vu from Nov. 9, when Jeff Green hit his game-winning fadeaway.
The Celtics have won every loose ball and limited the Heat to one shot on each possession as they stay close despite shooting a paltry 38 percent. The best illustration came when Pressey fired up an airball three, which Sully nabbed out of the air and drew a foul on his ensuing layup attempt.
Halftime, Heat 51-40: Chris Bosh delivered a back-breaking 3-pointer with two seconds left, otherwise the Celtics would have headed into intermission feeling ecstatic with their position.
An 11-point deficit is a bit more daunting than an eight-point deficit, but the Celtics still did some great things late in the second quarter to close the gap. They’re shooting terribly an turning the ball over like there’s no tomorrow, but they have done a couple of smart things to keep the Heat close.
For one, they are winning the rebounding battle 22-18 and have sent the Heat to the foul line for just five free throws. LeBron James has a game-high 12 points with five rebounds and two steals, but the Celtics have kept him from creating for his teammates, which is what sets James apart from great scorers like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. He has just two of Miami’s 11 assists.
Jeff Green is also making James work on the defensive end. Green has 10 points to lead the Celtics, who could use every bucket they can get. They are shooting 15-for-42 from the floor overall and 4-for-15 from deep.
Second quarter, 2:19, Heat 42-35: The Heat have a tendency to be lazy against lesser teams, and they’re at it again tonight. A 13-2 run by the Celtics has closed the gap to just seven points, even with the Celtics running with a lineup that includes 10-day contract signee Chris Johnson.
When people say LeBron will never be like Michael Jordan, these are the games they’re talking about. The Celtics are the type of team Jordan’s Bulls would have gutted and torn the hearts out of by the middle of the third quarter. The Heat, by contrast, let teams like the Celtics hang around — and occasionally steal one.
Second quarter, 5:34, Heat 42-30: Paging Chris Babb. Are you there, Chris — or anybody from the Maine Red Claws?
The Celtics may have to start raiding their D-League affiliate soon if they continue to be hit by injuries to their backcourt. Avery Bradley was forced to leave with a sprained ankle, further testing Boston’s thin backcourt. Jerryd Bayless already is out with a sprained toe and Rajon Rondo is operating on a minutes restriction (as you might have heard).
Still, Rondo is keeping a motley crew somewhat competitive with the star-studded Heat. Johnson knocked down another corner three and Anthony hit a short jumper off a feed from Rondo and the Celtics have narrowed what was an 18-point Miami lead back to a dozen.
Second quarter, 8:10, Heat 38-22: Rondo’s back in for his customary early-second appearance. The group Stevens chose to send him out there with is a bit, um, unique.
Newcomers Joel Anthony and Chris Johnson are running with Kelly Olynyk and Gerald Wallace. It’s an odd group, even if Johnson did deliver a corner 3-pointer for his first shot and basket as a Celtic.
Olynyk keeps showing flashes of promise, with a couple awkward-looking buckets that nonetheless went in. He has fallen asleep on the defensive glass a couple of times, however, leaving Chris Andersen free for two putback dunks.
End of first quarter, Heat 29-15: Brandon Bass usually has eventful games against the Heat. He’s had mixed results so far, but he’s definitely had an impact.
Bass has knocked down three short jumpers but also fumbled several interior passes that could have led to dunks or layups. He also raised LeBron James’ ire by jabbing a quick elbow into James’ chest when the reigning league MVP tried to reach in on Bass in the post.
James and the Heat are fine with Bass’ small contributions as long as they keep laying it on the Celtics. Michael Beasley banked home a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to give the Heat a 14-point advantage. They’re shooting 63 percent from the field and are dominating points in the paint 16-4.
No wonder the Celtics are in a bit of a bad mood.
First quarter, 5:47, Heat 14-7: You expect LeBron James and Chris Bosh to get theirs when you play the Heat, but you don’t expect Mario Chalmers to light you up.
Chalmers — or “Rio” according to his jersey — sliced through the Celtics’ defense twice in the opening minutes. Miami got off to a slow start but has used a 12-2 run to burst into a worrisome early lead. The Celtics are just 2-for-12 from the field and have three turnovers, which are always deadly against the Heat.
Even bad shots turn into run-out opportunities for the Heat. After Avery Bradley missed a long jumper at the end of the shot clock, James turned a long rebound into a flying fastbreak layup.
6:54 p.m.: With Dwyane Wade out, Ray Allen will make his seventh start of the season.
5:46 p.m.: The Celtics won’t be facing LeBron James and Ray Allen once the ball goes up at AmericanAirlines Arena. Instead, they’ll go up against King James and Jesus Shuttlesworth.
The Heat will suit up in their “nickname” jerseys for the nationally televised (NBA TV) game. That means Norris Cole will be replaced by “Cole Train,” that ubiquitous moniker that nobody ever in life has ever called Miami’s backup point guard.
Dwyane Wade will not be in the lineup, though, and not because he’ll be replaced by “D-Wade.” The All-Star guard is expected to sit out to rest his sore knee. Allen, Roger Mason Jr. or even James Jones could be candidates to start in Wade’s place.
The projected starters appear below.
2:04 p.m.: Rajon Rondo has been on a tight leash since he returned from a torn ACL on Friday. He still is, but the leash will have a little more slack tonight.
Rondo will be allowed as many as 25 minutes against the Heat, the Celtics announced this afternoon. The point guard was restricted to 18-20 minutes in his first two games, although he finagled an extra 1:20 out of coach Brad Stevens on Sunday.
8 a.m. ET: A couple of close losses to two of the NBA’s dysfunctional clubs served only as an appetizer to the real treat for the Boston Celtics.
As Will Smith said, welcome to Miami. LeBron James and the Heat (29-12) have been eagerly awaiting another visit by the Celtics (14-28) ever since Boston stole a 111-110 decision on a Jeff Green buzzer-beater on Nov. 9. That loss was the only interruption in a string of 13 victories in 14 games for the Heat; they’re not humming along quite as nicely anymore.
The Heat lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to fall to 2-4 in their recently completed six-game road trip. Dwyane Wade’s status remains uncertain as usual with his nagging knee issues, although Rajon Rondo is expected to suit up without any further restrictions than the existing 20-minute limit.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.