MIAMI - Progress takes many forms. Last night at American Airlines
Arena, it was a last-second 17-footer by Ricky Davis that skipped across
the rim. Without the buzzer-beater, Boston failed to force overtime and
came up short in its fourth-quarter comeback attempt against Miami,
But the defeated team was not the same one that has collapsed in the final period several times this season.
told them if we play like that most nights, we're going to win more
than we lose," said coach Doc Rivers. "That's a hell of a basketball
team we played. The part that I liked the best was we got down and there
were no heads hanging like we've had in the past. The young group got
us back in the game. I wouldn't have taken that bet before the game, but
It took the insertion of the second unit, plus Jiri Welsch, at the start of the fourth quarter to remind the Celtics
what team play looks like on offense. The reserves mounted a 9-0 run
behind impressive passing. Delonte West found Tony Allen for a 19-footer
to start the spurt. After Allen made good on a 3-point play, Welsch
found a wide-open Davis on the weak side for a 22-footer that brought
Boston within 3 (87-84). With 8:28 remaining, the Celtics made it a 1-point game (90-89) when Allen hit Davis for a 3-pointer.
Damon Jones hitting 3-pointers with ease, Miami mounted a quick 8-0 run
as Rivers gradually reinserted some of his starters. Allen and Davis
remained on the floor for energy. The strategy worked to some extent as
Boston trailed by just 4 points with less than two minutes remaining.
Allen blew a chance to bring Boston closer when he sent a pass intended
for Davis out of bounds. However, the game was far from over.
Pierce closed the gap to 2 (105-103), hitting a pair of free throws
with 1:05 to play. Wesley Person missed a 3-pointer with 11.3 seconds
left, giving the Celtics a shot to tie the game.
drove to the basket, then went to the line for a pair of free throws
with 5 seconds left. He missed the first, then made the second.
put Christian Laettner on the line for a pair of free throws with 3.1
seconds remaining. Laettner missed the first, then made the second,
giving the Celtics a glimmer of hope. Davis double-clutched, threw up his off-the-mark jumper, and Boston (4-8) left with another loss.
got a good look, but I just didn't get it off the way I wanted to,"
said Davis. "I didn't really get the shot I wanted, but it should have
gone in anyway."
During the third, the Celtics
couldn't make a shot, either. They went away from what worked so well
in the first half and took a more individualized approach on offense. As
a result, they struggled from the floor, shooting 22 percent (6 for
27). Boston's 60-59 halftime advantage turned into a 8-point deficit
(85-77) entering the fourth.
Heat opened the third with a 13-0 run that pushed the home team ahead,
72-60, with 8:03 left in the quarter. Miami led by as many as 13.
expected, Dwyane Wade (25 points, nine assists) and Shaquille O'Neal
(21 points on 9-for-9 shooting, 13 rebounds) showcased a perfect
partnership, though it was far from a perfect game for the Heat.
have to pick it up a little more," said O'Neal. "It is about us. It is
not about what anyone else is doing. We won the game, but we should have
won it by 15 or 20 points. We did not get back on defense. The Boston Celtics had 33 fast-break points. The more mistakes we make, the closer these games will be.
"We cannot keep winning games like this."
one of the best rec ords in the NBA (10-5), coach Stan Van Gundy knew
the Heat defense needed to improve dramatically despite recent strides.
like Boston - with its quickness on the perimeter, big men who can
shoot, and heavy use of pick and rolls and drives - present problems for
Miami. Utilizing a variety of offensive weapons in the first half, the Celtics shot 54 percent and took the 60-59 lead into the break.
Gundy worried in particular about Boston's ability to stretch opposing
defenses. In the second, power forward Raef LaFrentz proved Van Gundy's
worst nightmare as he hit a pair of 3-pointers. Both shots from the arc
produced ties that kept Miami from making runs. Before he went to work
from the outside, LaFrentz converted a 3-point play with 4:48 left in
the second, capping a 10-2 run and evening the score for the first time
in the period. LaFrentz scored 11 of his 21 points in the second.
really see us taking baby steps right now," said Pierce. "Even though
we're not winning these games, we're playing a lot of close games. I saw
a lot of positive things."