That word conjures thoughts of ferocious Spartans or war-worn Scots. It should be reserved for impressive triumphs, like the one the short-handed Celtics almost pulled off in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The fact that it took an extra five minutes of game time for the Heat to dispatch a Celtics squad playing without Avery Bradley, with a physically limited Ray Allen and with Paul Pierce watching the most pivotal minutes from the bench said all that needed to be said about this matchup. Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus shared significant time on the court in a wing pairing Danny Ainge could never have envisioned when he picked up the two veterans shortly before the season.
This game was not defined by James' 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It was not defined by his six-point fourth quarter, with every point coming via the free throw line, either, as tempting as that may be. The key number in the game, from the Heat's perspective, should be 18. That was the number of fouls Pierce, Pietrus and Dooling combined to commit in their effort to keep the Heat out of the lane at all costs, even if it meant sending their captain to the bench prematurely.
The Heat hold a 2-0 lead with the series set to move to Boston, but they also may face a problem. If it took all this to outlast an understaffed Celtics squad in the comfort of South Beach, what will it take in the hostile environs of Causeway Street? Beyond that, what would it mean against the Thunder or Spurs, who are fully healthy and ready to lay the smackdown on any opponent that shows the slightest sign of weakness in the NBA Finals?
The Heat may take heart in the realization that Rondo will not score 44 points every game, but Mario Chalmers will not put up 22 points on a regular basis, either. The officials will not always be as giving, such as when they awarded the Heat 10 free throws to the Celtics' two in overtime, or by granting James 24 free throw attempts to the Celtics' team total of 29. Allen and Kevin Garnett somehow seemed to grow stronger as the game went on, with the latter scoring 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
There was a winner on Wednesday, but there was no victor. At best, the Heat were survivors. That could bode well or ill for them, depending on whether this test strengthens their resolve or merely revealed the extent of their capabilities against a weakened opponent.
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