The Boston Celtics’ season came to an end on Saturday, as they fell 101-88 to a Miami Heat team now on its way to the NBA Finals.
As he had all season long, league MVP LeBron James led the way for Miami, notching his eighth double-double of the playoffs with 31 points and 12 rebounds. He played nearly the entire game, checking out as Dwyane Wade hit a pair of free throws to give the Heat their decisive 13-point lead with 28 seconds remaining.
Wade pitched in with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists in 44 minutes of work.
While James posted the most conspicuous stat line, the Heat received their most crucial contribution from Chris Bosh, who scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Bosh was wonderfully efficient; he missed only two of his 10 field goal attempts, and hit a career-high three three-pointers. Remarkably, all but two of the shots he put up came from 16 feet and out.
It was Bosh’s hot hand that allowed Miami to spread the floor extra-wide late in the game, pulling the Celtics’ defenders out of the paint and opening up boulevards to the basket for LeBron James to attack with dribble drives.
Shane Battier provided critical support, scoring 12 points off four three-pointers and collecting four steals. All nine of his shot attempts came from beyond the arc.
Despite the tremendous performances from Miami’s stars, the road to victory was a treacherous one. The Celtics were razor-sharp in the first half. They out-played the Heat in just about every facet of the game, hitting 53 percent of their shots and forcing 10 turnovers to build the seven-point lead they would carry into the third quarter. Paul Pierce seemed on the verge of a vintage Paul Pierce game as he turned in 13 points off five-of-nine from the floor. Ray Allen contributed 12 to the cause while Brandon Bass added 14, including 10 during a three-minute 14-3 run that put the Celtics up by 11 with 3:12 left in the half.
The 14-3 run was unexpected to say the least, given that it began only 30 seconds after Kevin Garnett checked out of the game, having been whistled for his third personal foul at the 7:08 mark.
Bass was the Celtics’ leading scorer through the first two quarters. He had played so well, in fact, that he was selected by Doris Burke for the post-half interview. We’re fairly certain this was the only time that this has happened this season. Bass explained that his performance was the result of “just playing with a lot of energy, starting on the defensive end, [which] translates to good offense for me.”
Bass, Allen and Pierce also combined for six first-half steals.
The Heat slowly began to chip away at the Celtics’ lead mere minutes into the third quarter. With 6:26 remaining, Shane Battier picked off a Ray Allen pass and outletted to Mario Chalmers, who found LeBron James for a driving lay-in, tying the game at 61 apiece. Over the next ten-and-a-half minutes, there would be 16 lead changes and four ties.
The Celtics could not sustain the hot shooting they had enjoyed in the first half. After hitting 58 percent of their shots in the second quarter, they connected on 41 percent in the third and 39 percent in the fourth. The Heat, meanwhile, were unrelenting in their assault. After making 50 percent of their first-half shots, they would knock down 53 percent in the second.
Compounding the ill-timed cooling of Boston’s hot hands was the sudden scarcity of Miami turnovers. Boston had forced 10 in the first half, repeatedly exploiting them for transition runs, while coughing the ball up only six times themselves. In quarters three and four, Miami protected the ball well, giving up just three turnovers while taking seven from the Celtics.
Miami took the lead for good off a driving one-handed slam from James with 7:58 left in the fourth that put the Heat up 83-82. On the subsequent Heat possession — obtained via a Paul Pierce turnover — Bosh extended the lead to four with a corner three. Ninety seconds later, James effectively put the game away, burying a 30-foot three-pointer over the outstretched hand of Brandon Bass as the shot clock approached its expiration.
The Celtics were unable to put together a response. They would go on to miss six of their next seven shots, including an oh-for-five stretch that lasted out the most important four-and-a-half minutes of the game. The drought ended with a Rajon Rondo three that was too little, too late. Miami’s lead now stood at 11. There were 39 seconds left to play.
Rondo was once again terrific for the Celtics, turning in his tenth career playoff triple-double with 22 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds. Kevin Garnett added 14 points off 6-of-12 from the floor and seven rebounds.
The Heat now advance to the NBA Finals, where they will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in a series that will surely come to be regarded as a landmark in the league’s history. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen joining Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki ,and Jason Kidd on the sidelines, the torch has officially been passed to the generation of stars who have already begun to mold the Association in their image, and will continue to do as the decade ensues.