Something hit the deck — hard — here Wednesday night. It was the Celtics, or rather Boston’s realistic chance to win in this NBA Eastern Conference finals against the favored Heat.
The Celtics won’t recover from this, from losing this way, on a night when they dominated for so long and quieted Miami’s packed home arena for so long, and then could only watch as the Heat relentlessly took away what was theirs.
It ended 115-111 for Miami in overtime, a survival as much as a victory. It was a thrilling, nearly epic result that gives the Heat a 2-0 series lead, and you get the sense this will be an unbearable weight for the Celtics to carry back up the coast.
How can it not be? This result was as devastating for Celtics hopes as it was uplifting for Miami.
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Boston got 44 points from Rajon Rondo, who put on one of the great playoff performances the NBA has seen, and yet still lost.
If the Heat found a way to somehow win this game, how can Miami possibly lose in this series? If the Celtics couldn’t win on a night like this, what hope can beaten Boston possibly carry forward?
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You’d love that to be the feel-good story that you take from Wednesday’s Game 2 of this series. Call the Celtics aging or old, hobbled or hurt, a nostalgia act — just don’t call them out of this series. Not yet.
Yes, you want to credit the Celtics’ no-quit courage and fight and all that stuff.
The thing is, this will crush Boston.
The Celtics will not get back up from this.
Some losses devastate. And this one will.
“I guarantee you they’re distracted right now, our locker room,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward.
It was the most competitive game of this postseason so far for Miami, one that showed fight and desperate resolve by both teams — but by the Heat last.
Sixteen missed free throws by the Heat (versus only three by Boston) nearly beat Miami. How can they call them free throws when they nearly proved so costly?
Mostly, though, it was Rondo who nearly beat the Heat. He was everywhere seemingly all at once, playing every minute, every second, running a marathon at blur speed.
Rondo had set the narrative for this Game 2 with his “hit the deck” comment as a preamble. It is a dated phrase evocative of what soldiers might have yelled to their buddies against incoming shrapnel during World War II, but in this context it meant Boston’s clarion call for more physicality against Miami after the Heat dominated inside with 19 dunks or layups in winning comfortably Monday.
“Nothing dirty, but they have to hit the deck, too,” Rondo had said — meaning Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“We made it way too easy for them,” Boston’s Paul Pierce added. “We let them look comfortable.”
There was nothing easy or comfy about Wednesday, for either team.
“I told our guys to embrace the difficulty,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.
There was plenty of that to embrace, all night long.
Boston backed up its pledge of physicality with 33 personal fouls (to Miami’s 18), with Pierce fouling out. But still Miami managed 40 points from inside the paint, getting to the basket enough to draw 47 free-throw attempts.
The night had to be a roller-caster for spent fans.
The Heat trailed by only seven at the half but the “white hot” home team was shooting an ice-cold 36 percent, shooting as if the basket was one of those rigged carnival-midway hoops barely wider than the basketball. Miami was being lopsidedly out-rebounded, too. And Wade — shades of Game 3 at Indiana in the last series — was suffering the ignominy of a scoreless first half, and at home no less, until finally scoring just before halftime.
Meantime the hot Celtics were making 11 consecutive field goals at one point and Rondo was all but unstoppable.
“An abomination,” Spoelstra called his team’s first-half defense of Rondo.
That was before Wade lit up in the third quarter with 12 points and Miami seized the lead.
But that was before aging but resilient Boston summoned whatever reservoir of experience and desperation it possesses.
In the end, though, it was Miami rising when it mattered most, igniting the home arena. James had an off night (7-for-20 shooting) yet had 34 points, with Wade adding 23 and Mario Chalmers 22.
It was enough.
Barely, but enough.
This time of year, barely is plenty.