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John Schuhmann

In hindsight, the Celtics would have preferred to have gotten Paul Pierce more shots late in Game 2.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Celtics come up flat down stretch of crucial Game 2

Posted May 4 2011 11:02AM

MIAMI -- Paul Pierce tied Game 2 of the conference semifinals at 80 with a pair of free throws. There was 7:10 left in the fourth quarter, the Boston Celtics had scored on six of their last eight possessions, and you just knew that this was a defining moment.

The next seven minutes of basketball were going to be the most important of the series, and, at the risk of going over the top with the hyperbole, maybe the most important of the entire NBA postseason.

The Celtics were banged up and not playing anything close to their best, but somehow, they were right there with the Miami Heat. And if they could win this game, the Celtics would gain more than just home-court advantage. They'd maintain a mental edge over their Eastern Conference foes, knowing they're the team that closes games the right way.

But that's not how things unfolded on Tuesday.

A Game 2 loss wouldn't have been a complete disaster for the Heat, but by responding to the Celtics' run, showing that they can execute just as well under pressure, and taking a 2-0 series lead, Miami arguably took their most important step on the path to a championship.

With the game on the line, Miami scored on seven straight possessions following Pierce's free throws, while the Celtics went scoreless on six straight. It was a four-minute stretch that may ultimately define this series and the end of the Celtics' run atop the Eastern Conference.

From the Heat's perspective, the deciding minutes of Game 2 were defined by aggressiveness, athleticism and defensive tenacity. But the Celtics can't just concede that they simply didn't have the firepower to keep up.

No, when the Celtics look back at that critical stretch, they're going to wonder why Glen Davis took the two most important shots of their season.

Pierce had scored his team's previous four points and is undoubtedly the Celtics' best go-to playmaker. But after the free throws, he didn't take another shot until it was a 13-point game with 1:21 left.

Instead, after Mario Chalmers put the Heat up 83-80 with a 3-pointer, the Celtics went to Davis in the low post and his baseline drive was snuffed out by Chris Bosh. On the following possession, with the Miami lead back up to five, Pierce had the ball on the left wing, but gave it up to Davis, who cut to the basket off a weak-side screen from Kevin Garnett. Davis never gathered himself and couldn't get his shot over Joel Anthony.

Davis is a very good role player and he's made some big plays for the Celtics over the last four years. But this was not his time.

"I thought Baby was aggressive, but ... it is what it is," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward, clearly holding back on any criticism of his player. Rivers chose instead to accept the blame for the Celtics' shot distribution in the most critical moments.

"That's always on me," he said. "Whether they do it on the floor or I call it, we've got to get the ball in the hands of the right guy. That doesn't mean the right guy's going to shoot the ball, but it usually leads to good things. And I don't think we did a very good job of that tonight."

Rivers' options weren't as obvious as they are on most nights. Pierce suffered a strained Achilles in the first quarter, Ray Allen suffered a bruised sternum in the fourth, and Rajon Rondo was hobbled by tightness in his back.

Still, the ball needed to be in Pierce's hands and, more importantly, it needed to move more than it did for most of the first two games.

"We are not a one-on-one basketball team," Rivers said. "Paul may be the only one that can beat guys on his own. It's just not who we are."

It is who the Heat are, however. Miami had a very efficient game offensively, but only assisted on 15 of its 34 field goals. The Heat won Game 2 on the shoulders of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who combined for 63 points and proved that they can get buckets on big possessions against a great defense.

The Heat have won just two games, and they're still a long way from a championship. But the fourth quarter of Game 2 may have been the moment that got them over the hump, a least mentally, against the team that is arguably their biggest obstacle. And though the Heat deserve plenty of credit for being up 2-0, they're there with a little assistance from their opponent.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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