Miami moved a game ahead of Boston, finally beating them for third time in 21 meetings, to clinch the second seed to two behind Chicago.
Heat and Celtics live up to the expectations
MIAMI // If this was an Eastern Conference semi-finals preview, then the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics showed what to expect.
Few pleasantries. Pushing and shoving.
And maybe a Game 7 in Miami.
LeBron James scored 27 points, Dwyane Wade added 14 and the Heat moved closer to the No 2 seed in the East play-offs Sunday by beating the sliding Celtics 100-77.
"It was a playoff-atmosphere type of game, from the fans to both teams' approach to what the game meant," Wade said. "It had that feel."
Miami moved a game ahead of Boston, trimming its magic number to clinch the second seed to two. The teams will finish second and third in some order behind Chicago in the East, slotted to play in the conference semi-finals.
"We'd like to play them, I can tell you that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "And we may have to if we want to go somewhere."
Chris Bosh added 13 points and eight rebounds for Miami, which had been 0-3 against Boston this season, though Heat coach Erik Spoelstra cautioned against overstating the win's importance.
"We proved we can beat them tonight," Spoelstra said. "That's about it, in my mind."
Paul Pierce scored 24 points and Kevin Garnett added 21 for Boston, which lost for the 10th time in its last 19 games. The Celtics were outrebounded 42-26, and outscored 44-26 in the paint.
"What else do you expect? It's Boston-Miami," Garnett said. "Supposedly it's two of, if not the top two, teams in the East. You have to expect that. You have to expect that coming in here you're not going to get the call. You had to expect their passion - a team you have beaten three times."
The Heat finally solved the Boston hex, beating the Celtics for the third time in the last 21 meetings. Bosh had been 1-13 against Boston since March 2007, and the Celtics ended both the 2009-10 seasons for Wade (in the first round) and James (in the second round).
Miami won for the 13th time in its last 16 games, and the bench - maligned for much of the season - outscored Boston's 32-12. "What worked for us today is, offensively we played together," Wade said.
Ray Allen scored 13 points for the Celtics. Rajon Rondo was held to just seven points and five assists on 3 for 8 shooting. "Frustration is high on our team right now," Rivers said.
Miami's role players were huge.
Mario Chalmers had nine points in the second quarter, when the Heat took the lead. Joel Anthony had eight rebounds in the first half, two less than the entire Boston roster. Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored six quick points early in the third as the Heat remained in control, and Anthony took advantage of a triple-team on James for a dunk and a 74-59 lead on the final play of the third quarter.
Of course, this being Celtics-Heat, nothing would come easily for Miami.
Down by 22, Boston ran off 12 straight points, Allen starting it with a four-point play, and Pierce adding both a 3-pointer and a three-point play to get the Celtics within 85-75.
It was the last gasp. Mike Bibby's 3-pointer with 4:49 left, followed by Bosh's follow of James' miss, sent the lead back to 15.
"We built that lead by just keeping guys in front of us, contesting shots and flying around defensively," James said.
Boston scored the game's first eight points and hit eight of its first nine shots. The Celtics were making it seem easy, especially when Garnett - who hadn't made a 3-pointer all season - stepped into one from the left wing and connected for a 22-15 lead. "It looked like the same old song," Spoelstra said.
It didn't stay that way. Boston went scoreless for the next 6:17, and Miami took the lead for good on the opening possession of the second quarter.
Tensions were already high, and emotions soon boiled over.
Jermaine O'Neal - who had just been easily scored on by James 27 seconds earlier in transition - tried to stop another drive by the two-time reigning MVP with a shoulder check with about four minutes left in the second, making no play on the ball.
A scrum quickly broke out under the basket. O'Neal earned a flagrant-1, James got a technical for throwing the ball back at O'Neal, Wade and Pierce also got technicals for some pushing and jostling, and a small amount of debris flew from the stands onto the court.
"I thought it was all theatrical, all the crap. I guess that's called toughness these days," Rivers said. "Two guys run into each other, we've got to call a flagrant foul, which I thought was a joke. And I thought the reactions by both were a joke."
Bosh earned another technical two minutes later for arguing he tied up a loose ball with Rondo, only to have referees award Boston a timeout. But the Heat kept their composure, kept pouring it on after halftime, then turned their eyes toward road games that loom large at Atlanta on Monday and Toronto on Wednesday.
"This is cool and all," Bosh said, "but we still have two more games."
RESULTS (home team in CAPS):
Chicago 102 ORLANDO 99
MIAMI 100 Boston 77
TORONTO 99 New Jersey 92
MEMPHIS 111 New Orleans 89
Detroit 112 CHARLOTTE 101
NY Knicks 110 INDIANA 109
DALLAS 115 Phoenix 90
Sacramento 104 GOLDEN STATE 103