MIAMI – Their big early lead was gone, the Miami Heat were trailing with 3 minutes remaining and the two-time defending champions seemed very much in trouble.
They didn’t let Boston score again. That’s how to snap a defensive slump. LeBron James scored 11 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, Chris Bosh added 16 and the Heat beat the Celtics 93-86 on Tuesday night at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami, finishing the game on a 9-0 run after trailing 86-84 with 3:08 left.
“It’s difficult doing what we do,” Bosh said, “but that’s why we’re the champs, to do the difficult thing again and get the job done. Tonight was a good start. We just have to build off of it.”
Chris Andersen scored 13 points, making all five of his shots for Miami, which gave up at least 100 points in four of their last six games. The Heat are 25-1 when allowing less than 100 points; 5-11 otherwise. Brandon Bass scored 15 points, Kris Humphries had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Jeff Green had 12 points for the Celtics, who enjoyed a 46-33 edge in rebounds but shot only 39 percent.
And, when it was over, Celtics coach Brad Stevens had a simple assessment of the final 3 minutes: “LeBron James happened.”
James made seven free throws in the final 2:33, the only other points down the stretch coming on a jumper by Ray Allen that put the Heat up for good. James did the rest, while the Celtics missed their final four shots.
Rajon Rondo, still coming around after returning from knee surgery, missed all eight of his shots, plus a pair of free throws with the Celtics down four with 44.4 seconds remaining. Avery Bradley, the Celtics’ other starting guard, was lost in the second quarter with a sprained right ankle.
“LeBron got a bunch of calls down the stretch,” Bass said. “We expect that. We just wished we could have kept him off the line.”
The Celtics rallied from a 10-point deficit to win 111-110 in their first trip to Miami this season. They seemed poised for a bigger comeback this time, steadily chipping away at a big Miami lead by getting it down to 11 by halftime, then four entering the fourth.
And a dunk by Humphries with 3:08 left – about a half-minute after James tried a reverse dunk that rimmed out – put the Celtics on top for the first time since the opening minutes. Thus ended Boston’s offense for the evening.
“It’s the only way we’re going to be able to win games: If we defend,” James said. As if playing without Dwyane Wade isn’t difficult enough for Miami – he was out for the 12th time this season – the Heat found themselves facing a sticky situation at his position just 71 seconds after tip-off.