Posted May 10 2011 9:10AM
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have had the reputation as the best defensive team in the league for the last four years. But in their most important game of the season, they weren't the best defensive team on the floor.
For the Miami Heat, this wasn't their first signature win, but it was their biggest. Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston, the Heat had never won a game at the TD Garden. And perhaps it was appropriate that they ended that streak by out-defending the Celtics.
The Heat shut the defending Eastern Conference champs down on Monday, holding them to just 90 points on 98 possessions in an eight-point, overtime victory, which gives them a commanding 3-1 lead in this conference semifinal series.
The Celtics certainly helped the Heat out, especially down the stretch. Rajon Rondo missed a bunny with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter and Allen and Garnett failed to execute the play Doc Rivers' called on the final possession of regulation, leaving Paul Pierce to force a long, contested jumper at the buzzer.
"We feel like tonight, we beat ourselves," Pierce said afterward.
There were mistakes and miscues, for sure. But the Heat played a big part in the Celtics' inability to execute offensively. The Miami defense was active and disruptive for most of the night.
Both coaches have stressed the importance of "hitting first" all series, and the Celtics did that on Monday. They came out aggressive on both ends of the floor and scored 42 points in the first 16 minutes. But once the Heat gained their composure, they held the Celtics to just 48 points in the final 37 minutes.
"We started to settle in and get into our normal game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "which is to defend, be active [and] try to generate our energy from turnovers and stops."
This win didn't come without some offense. Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 83 points, and the Heat are now 30-3 when the big three combine for 75 or more. Bosh's performance, capped by a dagger tip-in in overtime, was especially critical. But none of the three was particularly efficient. And most critical was that the Celtics weren't very efficient either.
The Heat did a particularly good job of defending Allen and Garnett. Wade stayed attached to Allen through his normal array of screens, rarely allowing him enough space to get a comfortable shot off. After scoring 25 points on 9-for-13 from the floor in Game 1, Allen has scored just 39 points on 11-for-30 over the last three games, mostly due to the defensive effort of Wade.
Garnett, who scored a game-high 28 points in Game 3, was completely neutralized on Monday. The Heat crowded him in the post, both before and after he touched the ball. After shooting 6-for-8 from within five feet of the basket two nights earlier, Garnett took just two shots in that range in Game 4. He missed them both and finished with seven points on 1-for-10 shooting.
"He's very capable of coming right back with the night he had on Saturday," Spoelstra said, "so we just tried to be more active collectively on all their actions."
Of course, none of that meant anything if the Heat didn't finish the game strong. And this game provided another crucial fourth quarter in a pivotal game between two teams with legitimate title aspirations.
There was no shot to tie or take the lead in the final 10 seconds. The Heat are still 1-for-19 in that situation and had just two field goals in the final five minutes of regulation on Monday. But there were multiple stops with the game on the line. The final period began with the Celtics forcing two shots lat in the shot clock, and they scored on just eight of their 29 possessions in the fourth quarter of overtime.
"In the playoffs, you're going to have the majority of the games close down the end," Spoelstra said. "Hopefully, our defense will give us a chance, and at least now we feel more comfortably offensively."
Here's the bottom line: As big as James' three was with two minutes to go, the Heat trailed by four to start the fourth quarter, and scored a measly 17 points in the period. They won this game with defense.
The Heat have the best one-two punch in the league, with a third wheel who redeemed himself quite a bit on Monday. But they can close out this series on Wednesday because they did to the Celtics in Game 4 what the Celtics have done to every other team over the last four years. They shut them down.
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