BOSTON — Dwayne Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen combined for 47 points and 18 rebounds the last time the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics met.
Injuries sidelined all three of those players Wednesday night, but the Heat still dispatched the Celtics, leading big early and holding on down the stretch for a 93-86 win in a battle of Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls.
Despite the defeat, the Celtics retained their hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the East by virtue of a Charlotte Hornets loss. Miami remains in seventh place, two games ahead of Boston.
NOT FEELING IT
Wednesday night marked the return of Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, who had missed the previous eight games with a bruised lower back. Thomas received a hearty ovation when he first checked in midway through the first quarter, but he did not immediately morph back into the scoring force C’s fans are used to seeing.
Thomas’ first six minutes of action included one turnover, two missed 3-pointers and three missed free throws. The Celtics as a whole struggled during that span, as well, with the Miami scoring 10 points off seven first-quarter Boston turnovers to take a 27-20 lead at the end of one.
That trend continued for the rest of the first half, and the Heat took a 57-40 advantage into the break. Miami shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half — nearly 20 points higher than Boston’s 40.5 percent — and the Celtics coughed the ball up 13 times before halftime. Not good.
Thomas played 20 minutes in the ballgame, finishing with four points (2-of-7 shooting), zero assists, zero rebounds and three turnovers.
NO ANSWER FOR DRAGIC
The best player on the court in that first half was Heat guard Goran Dragic, a former teammate of Thomas’ until the Phoenix Suns dealt both of them at last month’s trade deadline. Dragic toasted the Celtics, scoring 17 points in his first 17 minutes on 6-of-9 shooting. Nine of those points came in the second, as Miami’s lead ballooned from nine points to 17.
Dragic led all scorers with 22 points to go along with seven assists and five rebounds.
Ex-Celtic Henry (formerly Bill) Walker also chipped in with 12 points against his former team — all on 3-pointers.
DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK
Offensive highlights for the Celtics were few and far between for much of the night. Avery Bradley scored seven points in the game’s first three minutes but tapered off thereafter to finish with 12. He also appeared to be dealing with some discomfort in the sprained left elbow that held him out of three games earlier this month.
That began to change in the fourth, however, as the supremely unorthodox lineup of Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko mounted a wild comeback, trimming a 22-point deficit down to five.
Pressey, who finished with nine points, six assists and five rebounds, served as the catalyst for the run, injecting some much-needed energy while leading the second unit. Thomas did not play at all in the fourth quarter. Datome, meanwhile, played just 39 seconds before the fourth but was highly effective in the final frame, scoring six points and making a number of strong plays on the defensive end.
Boston was unable to close the gap, though, despite outscoring Miami 24-11 in the fourth. Crowder led all Celtics scorers with 16 points thanks in large part to his 8-for-11 performance at the foul line.
Up next: Awaiting Friday is what on paper should be the easiest remaining game for the Celtics: A matchup with the NBA-worst New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images