Just as noteworthy, the Heat are one game away from coming up short in their championship quest for the second straight year.
Fourth quarter, :09.4, Celtics 92-90: James scored and Rivers was taking no chances. Before Rondo could attempt a risky inbounds pass, the Celtics coach took a timeout to draw up a surefire play to get the ball in the hands of a good free throw shooter.
Fourth quarter, :13.8, Celtics 92-88: Allen has not had the best postseason at the free throw line, shooting only 61 percent from the stripe. Still, there was no doubt he would hit both freebies to give the Celtics a four-point edge.
Fourth quarter, :15, Celtics 90-88: It may have been a controversial call, but Wade got the foul on Pierce and hit both free throws to pull Miami within two points. Make free throws and the Celtics should walk out of Miami with a 3-2 edge in the series.
Fourth quarter, :52.9, Celtics 90-86: Pierce was only 5-for-18 from the field. Make that 6-for-19.
Pierce canned a 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game with less than a minute to play. The pressure's on the Heat, who could not afford to be on the brink of elimination with the series headed back to Boston.
Fourth quarter, 2:54, Celtics 81-80: James had 28 points, Wade had 23 and Bosh had nine. No other Miami player had more than six points.
That unbalance was noteworthy in contrast to the Celtics, who had five players in double figures in scoring. Rondo was closing in on that mark as well. The Boston point guard was 1-for-9 from the field through three quarters but hit two crucial shots in the fourth quarter as the Celtics eyed control of this series.
Fourth quarter, 5:16, Heat 78-75: Wade and James were tough to criticize in the middle minutes of the fourth quarter. Wade had eight points and James had six points in the frame with more than five minutes remaining. There were plenty of clutch possession remaining, though, but Miami's dynamic duo powered their team back into position to win this one.
Fourth quarter, 9:06, Celtics 70-69: Norris Cole is bound and determined to be a pain for the Celtics. Cole scored five clutch points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and he picked Rondo's pocket for a clutch steal that turned into a layup for Wade at the other end.
The Celtics could have some foul concerns with Garnett picking up his fourth personal. He was the only player on either side who was in foul trouble, though, which was markedly different from the last game when everyone seemed to have three or four fouls by this point.
End of third quarter, Celtics 65-60: Right on cue, the Celtics bench came through again.
Stiemsma, Pietrus and Dooling contributed eight points in the quarter for the Celtics, including a five-point flurry to end the frame. Dooling canned a corner triple to extend the Celtics' lead to five points, their largest of the game.
Pietrus also made a solid defensive play, contesting a 3-pointer by James without fouling.
Third quarter, 2:01, Heat 60-56: The Celtics starters were set for another long night. With two minutes left in the third quarter, every Boston starter had played more than 27 minutes and Allen and Rondo had played more than 30. The Celtics' defensive effort was the top reason they were able to keep close with the Heat, but their strength could fade down the stretch as minutes pile up.
Third quarter, 6:25, Heat 57-50: The Celtics utilized a zone defense in the second quarter, and they went to it extensively to begin the third quarter. As is often the case with zones in the NBA, the defense was effective at first, but the Heat's intelligence and athleticism started to wear away at the defense.
Battier drained a 3-pointer, which by all rights should have been a four-point play, following one of the least heads-up plays you will see made by Rondo. Rondo caught an outlet pass in the frontcourt by threw the ball behind the timeline to Allen, who was jogging up the floor. The backcourt violation resulted in the Celtics' eighth turnover.
Halftime, Heat 42-40: Turnovers were deadly for the Heat, who committed 11 turnovers that turned into nine Celtics points. That enabled the Celtics to stay within a field goal of the Heat despite shooting only 14-for-42 and losing the rebounding battle 29-20.
Something about Game 5s must sit well with Bass. He busted out for 27 points in Game 5 of the last series, as you may recall, and he was off to a strong start again in this one. He led the Celtics in scoring with 10 points at the break, and had missed only one of his five shots.
The Good: Apart from Bass, James also stood out with 18 first-half points and nine rebounds.
The Bad: Paul Pierce had a tough half shooting the ball, missing eight of his 10 shots, picking up two fouls and committing two turnovers. … Rajon Rondo showed flashes of excellence, such as his left-handed putback, but he was 1-for-8 from the field. He had three turnovers, which made his four assists and three steals much less influential on the game.
The So-so: Chris Bosh's return to the court was a reasonable success. He scored nine points and nabbed six rebounds but shot only 3-for-7 from the field.
Second quarter, 2:02, Heat 38-36: Suddenly, the Celtics rediscovered their intensity, and the Heat did not appear to be prepared for it.
With a defensive push and solid rebounding, the Celtics worked their way back into the ball game. They halted James' scoring push and turned to their five starters to make their run, with Pietrus' five points accounting for the only bench scoring out of the Celtics' first 36 points.
Second quarter, 5:29, Heat 34-26: The sluggishness of this first half suggested the second night of a back-to-back in February, not a pivotal Game 5 in the conference finals.
James continued to be one of the few players with any energy, taking Pietrus to the hoop for a floating bank shot. The Celtics were down to 28 percent shooting, but the issue was not their shots so much as the lack of work to get good shots.
Second quarter, 7:55, Heat 31-22: Mickael Pietrus finally hit a 3-pointer, and it was not even a 3-pointer. It's been that kind of series for him.
Pietrus hit a shot with his right toe on the 3-point line, robbing the slumping swingman of a point. He was awarded three points on the floor, but the basket was up for review.
The Celtics looked dead in the first half, while James and Wade may have been the only two players to show any energy. James had 14 of the Heat's 31 points and also grabbed six rebounds. Wade had seven and three.
End of first quarter, Heat 24-16: Bosh's return to the court went well, considering his extended absence and the conference finals setting.
Bosh hit a fallaway bank shot over Greg Stiemsma, which quickly got Garnett off the bench to defend the Miami big man. But Bosh was not done, converting an and-one layup against Garnett to give the Georgia Tech product a productive first few minutes off the bench.
The Celtics did few of the "little things" in the first quarter. They were outrebounded 12-6 and committed five turnovers. Even more damaging, they were off to another one of their poor shooting starts, shooting 6-for-20 from the field.
First quarter, 2:53, Heat 16-11: Bosh made his first appearance, to the appreciation of the crowd. His first shot was flat and off-line, as one would expect from a guy who has not played in three weeks. Yet Bosh's shot was nowhere near as ugly as most of Boston's shots. The Celtics missed 13 of their first 17 shots, and no one other than Bass had more than two made field goals. Wade and James each had seven points, meanwhile, by hitting three of their first five attempts.
First quarter, 5:42, Heat 11-9: Brandon Bass has found a place on the bench more often than not in this series, mostly due to the Celtics' need to match up with Miami's smaller lineup.
Bass was Boston's offensive spark early in this one, though. The Heat reeled off the first seven points of the game before Bass hit a baseline jump shot and followed with a tough layup.
7:32 p.m.: Bosh will be back, at least in uniform, for the Heat in Game 5.
The Heat's All-Star power forward was activated and could play for the first time since May 13. He will not start, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters, and it is uncertain how much he will play, if at all. In addition to his strained abdomen, Bosh also is dealing with the death of his masseuse on Monday.
The probable starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: A week ago, it seemed improbable that the Celtics would be here at all. Yet they are back in Miami with a chance to assume control in the Eastern Conference Finals after two straight wins to tie up the series.
Rajon Rondo looks to continue what could be a defining series in his career. This could be the turning point when the young point guard officially takes the reins of the franchise from the Big Three. Of course, the Celtics still need to make it through the formidable Heat, who are reeling but cannot be counted out as long as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are able-bodied.
Another key player, forward Chris Bosh, is expected to be activated for the game. Whether he is "able-bodied" or even plays is another matter, but the Celtics have been preparing all series as though Bosh will play at some point. Do not expect Doc Rivers' crew to be taken by surprise.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8:30 p.m.
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