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Celtics 95, Heat 85

Miami vise

Celtics grab lead, then refuse to let go

Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / December 1, 2007

MIAMI - Temperatures were in the 80s yesterday. Inside air-conditioned AmericanAirlines Arena, things got even hotter for the Celtics last night as they cooled off dramatically in the fourth quarter.

After being up by as many as 28 points, the Celtics overcame a late freeze, holding on for a 95-85 win over the Heat in front of a sellout crowd of 20,022 and a national television audience.

Boston entered the fourth with a 22-point lead. Miami, however, made the Celtics nervous by slicing the deficit to 7 points and outscoring them, 24-12.

"Great win," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Obviously, that's not the way we wanted to finish the game. Hectic, ugly basketball the last five minutes. But we'll take the win."

After opening the season 8-0, the Celtics finished November with a 13-2 record and became the 10th team in franchise history to have two or fewer losses in the month. Boston also improved to 4-0 in the second of back-to-back games and 3-0 in home-road back-to-backs.

Paul Pierce scored a game-high 27 points, while Kevin Garnett added 23 points and nine rebounds. James Posey, who played for the Heat the previous two seasons, had 6 points and five rebounds off the bench in his return.

The Celtics' key players didn't have to play big minutes Thursday night as they hammered the visiting Knicks, 104-59. While that helped make playing on back-to-back nights easier, traveling here was still tough as the Celtics didn't get to their hotel rooms until after 4 a.m. The Heat (4-11) had not played since Tuesday.

Despite the imperfect conditions, Pierce was ready to go.

"I feel pretty fresh today," he said before the game. "I didn't have to grind it out yesterday."

Pierce definitely looked fresh in the first half. In 15 minutes, he scored 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting, nailing all three 3-pointers and all five free throws. The Celtics held a 59-41 lead at the half after making eight 3-pointers and causing Miami to turn the ball over 11 times.

"We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start," Pierce said. "If you look at the last couple of road games we had, teams have been jumping on us. We wanted to come off with a better start than we've had. So we did that."

Said Rivers, "It's funny, at halftime we talked about [boxer] Meldrick Taylor, the fight years ago with [Julio Cesar] Chavez and he started dancing in the 12th round and got knocked out. We almost did that. We let our guard down."

The Celtics opened the third quarter with a 12-5 run, with Pierce and Garnett splitting the points, and took a 71-46 lead on a Pierce trey at 8:49. Boston went up, 83-55, on two free throws by Pierce with 1:08 left in the third and finished the quarter leading, 83-61.

Rivers sat Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen during the fourth quarter in the rout of the Knicks. This time as the fourth began, Pierce and Garnett were on the bench while Allen was still in the game. But closing games has been an issue at times for the Celtics after they've gotten big leads.

Four straight Heat 3-pointers, three by Jason Williams and one by Daequan Cook, sliced the deficit to 83-67 with 11:14 left. Soon after that, Garnett and Pierce were back in the game - as were the Heat.

"Miami just made a run," Pierce said. "We had to settle down. We were trying to rush things. We had a chance to put them away. But they came with a barrage of threes. We were looking for them to kind of lay back up and let our guard down."

The Celtics scored their first point of the fourth when Pierce hit one of two free throws with 9:40 remaining, making it 84-70. They didn't manage a field goal until a Garnett putback with 6:22 left gave them an 86-72 lead.

"We knew they were playing at home in front of their crowd," Garnett said. "It's a very competitive team with competitive players. We anticipated that."

Said Miami coach Pat Riley, "We were down 28 points in the game. We were getting blown out. This team has a lot of pride."

Another 3-pointer by Williams trimmed Boston's advantage to 86-79 with 3:56 left. Two Allen free throws calmed the Celtics' nerves and pushed them ahead, 90-81, with 2:14 to go. Posey sealed the win with two free throws with 51.4 seconds left for a 93-83 lead.

"I'm sure we'll watch this tape," Garnett said. "There is a lot to learn from it."

Said Riley, "We came up a little bit short."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com.

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