December 22, 2004
Shaq Sits; Heat Still Win
MIAMI - The Big Guy didn't play, but the Miami Heat still had the best player on the floor in the person of a mid-size guy named Dwyane Wade. The Shaq-less Heat had a few other things going for them as well, including more staying power. The Celtics just could not hang with the energetic Heat, who dominated in the fourth quarter en route to a 108-100 victory at the American Airlines Arena last night. When Celtics coach Doc Rivers heard that Shaquille O'Neal was not going to play because of a contusion of his left calf, he said, "That means more Dwyane Wade, and I'm not sure I want that." Now there was prescience. The young man from Marquette was uncontrollable at both ends, submitting a 33-point, 11-assist, 4-steal game that even - dare we say it - Kobe Bryant would have been happy to claim for his own.
The Celtics did a lot of good things in this one, and were trailing only 87-85 early in the final period. But they were only able to score 5 points in the next six minutes, and by the time they snapped out of it, they were down by 11, 101-90. It's doubtful anyone was moping about not being able to watch Shaq after taking a look at all the athletes, and athleticism, on display in the first half, which ended with Boston leading, 60-59. Neither team could get an advantage in this up-and-down battle of drives, alley-oops, and mid-range jumpers. Imagine. They scored 119 points with just five 3-pointers, none in the second period.
The Heat had the edge in pyrotechnics. Between Wade and Keyon Doolin, there appeared to be about 15 dunks. There weren't, of course, but it did seem that way, and so the fact that the Celtics, with a bit more in the way of conventional offense, were able to not only keep pace, but lead by as many as 5 (56-51 and 58-53) in the second quarter was somewhat surprising. Boston had a chance to put a little daylight between itself and the home team after grabbing that 58-53 lead with 2:15 remaining in the half. But Udonis Haslem, a major inside force, scored on successive putbacks, the first on a fourth effort. Mr. Haslem also had a big opportunity to give his team the halftime lead, but after taking a pass from Wade in the middle of a fast break, he neglected to dribble while taking about six steps to the hoop. The crowd, obviously accustomed to the modern laxity in this area, was very put off when the dunk was negated.
Both coaches had to be pleased with their benches, at least in terms of offense. For once the regulars turned the game over to the subs, the pace didn't change much, and neither did the entertainment value. Paul Pierce had all his 13 first-half points in the opening period, but the Celtics still had a viable offense in the second quarter, with young Al Jefferson carrying the load in the first half of the period and Ricky Davis providing the requisite energy in the later stages. The score at the end of the first period was 33-33. In the not-too-distant past, that could have been a Miami halftime score. 33-33? Are you kidding? Third quarter, perhaps. But these are the new high-octane Heat, and on a night when they didn't have to honor the game's biggest inside scoring threat, the Shaqolytes came out running, which was just fine with the Celtics.
There were eight ties and four lead changes in the entertaining first period, during which the Celtics ripped off 12 fast-break points. The teams combined to shoot 59 percent (24 for 41), with each team freely running after the other's made basket. You had to look twice to make sure they weren't wearing those old shorty shorts and Chuck Taylor high-tops. After 29 minutes of parity, there was a momentum shift five minutes into the third quarter. We had what Heat president Pat Riley used to call a "skirmish," and when it was over, his team was in slight control of the game. The skirmish led to an 87-81 Miami three-quarter lead.
The Celtics were leading, 71-67, when Wade went to the hoop for an old-fashioned 3-point play, and this seemed to energize the home side. The real push began with the score tied at 73 when Damon Jones hit back-to-back threes to trigger a 10-3 run, in the middle of which came a fateful sequence. With the Heat ahead, 80-76, Wade, absolutely ubiquitous in this contest, blind-sided Gary Payton for a clean steal. As he was sailing in for the dunk, Davis caught up to him, blocking the shot and knocking Wade heavily to the floor with his arm. Referee Bob Delaney immediately called a flagrant Category 2 foul, which not only put Wade on the line but called for Davis's ejection. In a game of athleticism, the Celtics did not need that.