LeBron James had a good courtside seat for the Heat’s second consecutive loss to the Celtics.
A helpless bystander after fouling out in overtime, James could do nothing but watch as the Celtics tied these Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 with a 93-91 victory on Sunday night at TD Garden. James led the Heat with 29 points and helped lead an inspired comeback in the second half but wasn’t on the floor for the most important minutes of this series.
He fouled out with 1:51 remaining in overtime after slamming into Mickael Pietrus. The Heat trailed 92-91 after James left the game. After Rajon Rondo made 1 of 2 free throws, Dwyane Wade had a chance to tie or win the game but his three-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark.
“He had it in his hands and I could tell he was going for the win,” James said. “He got Marquis up in the air, stepped through and it was a matter of inches when it comes to making or missing. But he got a really good look.”
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And so did James, who disagreed after the game with the call on his sixth foul.
“I don’t foul out,” James said. “I don’t foul out. If I’m going to foul out, that sixth foul, I wish I would have earned it and it actually would have been a foul on me. But, whatever.”
Wade finished with 20 points on 7 of 22 shooting and played the entire second half and overtime. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 23 points before fouling out in overtime. Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists.
“I got a good look,” Wade said of his final shot. “It just didn’t go in.”
James drilled a three-pointer with 37.5 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 89-89. On the Celtics’ next possession, he forced a turnover when he absorbed a charge by Kevin Garnett. With 21.1 seconds left and the game tied, the Heat had time to draw up a potential game-winning play. Whatever coach Erik Spoelstra drew up went off script when James passed to Udonis Haslem at the buzzer, who air-balled a jump shot. James’ pass to Haslem was partially deflected.
“When he gets doubled, I come from the strong side and try to get in LeBron’s vision,” Haslem said. “I don’t think we would do anything differently. I we could, I would have probably pulled a little higher, so he could get a better passing angle.”
Garnett put the Celtics ahead by three points with 2:43 left. An offensive rebound by Haslem kept possession alive for Mario Chalmers, who missed a three-point attempt but then delivered with a driving layup to cut Boston’s lead to 87-86 with 1:01 to play.
Haslem finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds. Chalmers had 12, four assists and three rebounds.
A double foul on James and Garnett with 5:32 left gave James his fifth foul. James picked up his fourth foul 15 seconds earlier when Michael Pietrus drew an offensive charge.
A 13-1 run by the Heat spanning the third and four quarters sliced the Celtics lead to nothing. With 8:45 remaining in the game, the Heat tied the game for the first time since the opening tip. The Celtics called a timeout but its offense continued to sputter. Meanwhile, the Heat got a boost from an unlikely source, Norris Cole.
With Mario Chalmers in foul trouble, Cole entered the game with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter. He gave the Heat its first lead of the game with 8:23 left and then put the Heat ahead 78-76 with 7:41 left in the game.
But the Celtics weren’t done.
Ray Allen swished a three-pointer off a deflection to put the Celtics ahead 79-78 with 7:30 left and Garnett tipped in a miss by Brandon Bass to put Boston ahead by four points.
The Heat stormed back from a 14-point halftime deficit in the third quarter. Led by nine points from Wade, the Heat cut Boston’s lead to 73-68 to begin the fourth quarter. Wade struggled significantly in the first half but found his groove in the second. His three-pointer to close out the third quarter gave the Heat momentum entering the final period. The Heat outscored Boston 21-12 in the third quarter.
“I guess we just decided to play some defense,” Wade said. “They were carving us up at the beginning of the game.”
Wade started the game 1 of 8 from the field before hitting an out-of-character three-pointer with 1:46 left in the first half. It cut the Celtics’ lead to 58-43 but Allen answered immediately with his third three-pointer of the half. The Celtics made 7 of 16 attempts from three-point range in the first half. Allen finished with 16 points. Garnett had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Keyon Dooling was 3 of 4 from three-point range and finished with 10 points of the bench.
It was a difficult two-game stretch for Wade, who has never exactly played up to his potential in Boston. Not only did Wade struggle at TD Garden but he inexplicably drew attention to his coach after Friday’s loss when he told reporters it was up to Spoelstra to devise a counter for Celtics coach Doc Rivers’ mastery of Game 3.
Exactly what adjustments were made between Games 3 and 4, who’s to say? The Heat gave up 61 points in the first half, the most of any half this postseason.
During his halftime interview with ESPN, Rondo summed up the Heat’s first-half shortcomings thusly: “They’re complaining and crying to the referees in transition.”
Meanwhile, Rondo had eight points and 10 assists in the first half. His back-to-back assists on three-pointers by Allen and Dooling gave Boston a 40-26 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Back to back three-point plays by Paul Pierce gave the Celtics an 18-point lead with less than three minutes in the first half. Pierce entered Sunday without a dominate performance in the series but delivered in Game 4. He scored 20 points in the first half but scored just two points in the final two periods and overtime.
The game was 17-minutes old before the Heat attempted its first free throw. James missed it, of course. The Heat finished the game 17 of 24 from the line, a significant improvement from its 10-of-20 effort in Game 3.
“We waited until the second half, which we can’t do,” James said. “In Game 3 we can’t wait until we get down and then make a push. Tonight we gave ourselves a chance to win but we can’t continue to dig ourselves a hole in the first two and half quarters and then decide to turn it on.”