Erik Spoelstra’s message, simple and succinct, was delivered on a sheet of paper to every Heat player before the game.
Only four words were needed: “Remember who we are.”
Who they are, when active and engaged more than recently, is a disruptive defensive team that showed up in the first half and late in Tuesday’s 93-86 victory against Boston. The Celtics failed to score in the final 3:07, with Miami ending the game on a 9-0 spurt.
But “who they are” is also a team that’s last in the league in rebounding, and Miami’s shortcomings on the boards were evident and destructive Tuesday, one of several factors that allowed Boston to climb out of an 18-point hole.
Nothing comes easily for the Heat these days, and Tuesday’s win certainly didn’t, even against a Boston team that has dropped 15 of its past 17. Ahead most of the night, Miami fell behind 86-84 on a Kris Humphries slam with 3:08 left, after a stretch that included LeBron James committing a turnover and missing a dunk.
But James then hit two free throws, Ray Allen sank a jumper and James hit two more free throws with 59 seconds left, putting Miami up four. Rajon Rondo then missed two free throws with 44 seconds to, and James hit two more free throws to essentially settle matters.
“It wasn’t a perfect game [but]… it meant something to us tonight,” Spoelstra said. “It starts with that type of pride in our defense and competing the way we’re capable of. We were much more active, guys making multiple [defensive] plays in the same possession. What we talked about was finding an excuse to play harder. Our effort and energy was much better.”
James finished with 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists, carrying home a Heat team that had lost to Boston earlier this season at home, on a Jeff Green three at the buzzer. “When we defend, we’re a very good team,” said James, whose 11 free-throw attempts (nine makes) all came in the fourth quarter.
A night after being blitzed for 121 points by Atlanta, the Heat was considerably stingier. Considering the defensive slippage and the recent 2-4 swoon, any win in which the opponent fails to crack 90 is a positive step for a Heat team that ranks an uncharacteristic 23rd in field-goal percentage against.
Miami had allowed 64.5 points, on average, before halftime of its previous four games. The Celtics opened 1 for 10, had as many first-quarter turnovers as field goals (six) and went to halftime Tuesday with just 40 points and down 11.
The Celtics improved in the third quarter (shooting 50 percent, including eight second-chance points) but 7 for 21 (33 percent) in the fourth and closed at 39 percent. What was more hurtful was the Celtics’ 46-33 rebounding edge, which led to 14 second-chance points in the second half and 25 for the game.
Playing without Dwyane Wade for the 12th time this season, the Heat got 16 points from Chris Bosh and 13 points, seven rebounds and needed energy from Chris Andersen, who made all five of his shots.
Mario Chalmers outplayed Rondo, still rusty in his third game after returning from a major knee injury. Rondo finished 0 for 8 from the field and 1 for 4 from the line, with his two late misses especially costly.
“I still don’t like those guys,” Rondo said this week of the Heat. “… A lot of things upset me about Miami.”
Based on their reaction following Monday’s loss in Atlanta, Spoelstra had a sense that Heat players had become fed up with their deficient defensive work.
“Our captains spoke up [after that game], other guys spoke up,” Spoelstra said, joking that they said many of the things that he intended to say.
Spoelstra also felt encouraged when some players arrived at AmericanAirlines before 3 p.m. Tuesday, well before the 7:30 p.m. tip.
“The energy was good; guys were communicating,” Bosh said. “We knew we weren’t ourselves [against Atlanta]. It was embarrassing.”
Also notable Tuesday: Greg Oden made his Heat home debut and had two highlight-reel plays: a block of a Jeff Green dunk attempt that led to a 24-second violation and later, a follow-up dunk. He also missed an open 16-foot jumper and a hook shot over Kris Humphries, finishing with two points, a rebound and two fouls in 5:34, all in the first half.
“I’ve been looking for opportunities to put him in,” Spoelstra said. “It’s tough infusing a new player into a rotation. He doesn’t lumber around.”
Another snazzy snapshots included a Michael Beasley 35-footer just before the first quarter buzzer.