Enveloped by the black hole that is TD Garden, the Heat’s winning streak was stretched to the edge of oblivion Monday night.
Stars go to die in Boston, but not LeBron James. He owns the place. Just like the 2012 playoffs, James shot down the Celtics in their own building to keep the magic alive. Last season, it was the hopes of an NBA title. On Monday night, it was the dream of catching the Lakers for the longest winning streak in NBA history.
James’ 21-footer with 10.5 seconds left — the climax of an entertaining 105-103 victory — extended Miami’s winning streak to 23 games. It’s the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Only the 1971-72 Lakers and their 33 consecutive victories stand greater against time. In addition to keeping the streak alive, the Heat (52-14) also clinched the Southeast Division with 16 games left in the season.
“We grew again tonight and that’s big for our team,” James said.
The Heat rallied from 17 points to keep the magic running. It was the largest comeback of the streak and of the season. The Heat came back from 16 points down against the Knicks for the streak’s 14th victory.
James led the Heat with 37 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. It was his 33rd double-double of the season. After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the official plan on the final play was for James to “save us.”
“It’s just LeBron being LeBron,” Shane Battier said. “You never take that for granted. Shame on anybody that takes No. 6 for granted.”
Celtics forward Jeff Green, starting for injured star Kevin Garnett, caused mismatch problems for the Heat and finished with 43 points, the most of any player against Miami this season.
A block by Chris Bosh on Green triggered a fast break for the Heat that ended with Mario Chalmers swishing a three-pointer with 2:40 left. It gave the Heat a 101-100 lead and capped a furious comeback after trailing by 13 points in the final period.
But the Celtics responded with 1:49 left when Avery Bradley drained a three-pointer from the corner to give Boston a 103-101 advantage. James missed a contested layup on the Heat’s next possession, and the Heat retained possession after a lengthy video review of an out-of-bounds upheld a controversial call.
On the ensuing play, James tied the score at 103-103 with a putback and Green, looking spent after his colossal game, missed a layup on the other end. But just when it appeared the short-handed Celtics were gassed, they forced a 24-second violation with 45.0 seconds left and the score still tied.
But Brandon Bass missed a layup with 31 seconds left, and Wade pulled down the rebound, setting the stage for James’ heroics.
Wade finished the game with 16 points and Chalmers had 21, going 6 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from three-point range. Bosh had 13 points and five rebounds. Ray Allen had just six points on six shots in his second game in Boston since leaving the Celtics for the Heat.
A goaltending call on Bosh on a layup attempt by Green gave the Celtics a 10-point lead with 9:06 left in the game. At that point, Green had 43 of the Celtics’ 93 points, or 46.23 percent. Green was subbed out of the game for Paul Pierce with 7:39 left and the Celtics up 96-86. With Green out of the game, the Heat mounted its comeback.
“There wasn’t any panic,” Spoelstra said. “It was just about doing it better and doing it harder.”
Slice of heaven
The first half was a slice of basketball heaven for a regular-season game. Boston’s fans delivered the atmosphere and its players provided the challenge. Led by Green, the Celtics jumped out to a 31-19 lead after the first quarter.
With a 17-0 run by the home team to end the first quarter, the Heat’s winning streak began sweating nitroglycerin. Like an unstable stick of dynamite, it was about to explode.
Green had 14 points in first quarter, including 12 points in row before and during the 17-0 run.
Green finished with 26 points in the first half, going 9 of 12 from the field and 3 of 5 from three-point range. At one point in the second quarter, Green had 22 points and the Heat had 24.