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Haslem takes first steps back

By Cristina Ledra
Globe Correspondent / May 11, 2011

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MIAMI — Udonis Haslem’s wait came to an end Monday as the Heat forward made his long-awaited return from a November foot injury in the Game 4 win at Boston.

Haslem had said he felt good enough to come back last week but was just waiting on clearance. He would have come in handy for the Heat earlier in this series because of the physical nature of his play.

“I wasn’t expecting to get a lot of minutes, but I wasn’t expecting it to go like that,’’ said Haslem, who logged only three minutes in the game. “Coach said impact the game, so I guess I did that.

“I was a little anxious. It’s been a long time. This was the longest I’ve ever been away from the game, so I was anxious. I wouldn’t call it nervous, just anxious.’’

He felt rusty, he said, because there was nothing he could have done during practice to prepare him for the pace of a game. The most glaring sign of that rust was his only shot, which was an air ball.

“I can’t remember the last time I missed a shot like that — wide open, and I didn’t even hit the rim,’’ Haslem said. “I would say there’s probably a little rust still, but I’ll work through it.’’

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said three minutes wasn’t enough to gauge Haslem, but his presence would go a long way.

“He’s a different individual, and we don’t need him to be, necessarily, the player he’s always been all the other years,’’ Spoelstra said. “We just need him to give us his leadership, his voice, and be there with the guys and when his number is called, to be productive from an effort standpoint.’’

As for how big of a role he’ll play in Game 5, Haslem said it all depends on how he does with the minutes.

“It’s hard to tell,’’ Haslem said. “I would guess [Spoelstra] is going to limit my minutes, but it will probably also be how I’m looking. If I’m going pretty well, grab a couple rebounds, maybe make a shot or two, he might give me more minutes. But I’m not expecting to get a lot of minutes, so whatever he gives me is a bonus.’’

A rare feat Before Monday night, Spoelstra had never won in Boston as Miami’s coach, and the Heat hadn’t won there in their last five tries. Now that they have a win — and have the Celtics on the brink of elimination — it’s a big weight off the whole team. “That was a mini-breakthrough for us,’’ Spoelstra said. “So many of us had not won in that building against that team with their core. It’s a tough place to play, and we had to get that first hurdle, but we’re not done. By no means do we feel that the series is done. Not against a champion like they are, so we have to continue to bring our best, with the effort that we’ve brought the last three quarters and try to be more efficient offensively against a great defensive team.’’

Follow the leaders Though the assembling of Boston’s Big Three came with a lot less fanfare than “The Decision’’ in Miami, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James said it was the Celtics who inspired them to come together. “With LeBron losing to Boston in Cleveland in the playoffs and him feeling like, ‘You know what, I gotta do more and I need to be around more to contend for a championship,’ and me feeling the same way going into the summer saying I need more, it was because of Boston,’’ Wade said. “They knocked us out.’’ When the Celtics formed their powerhouse, it was clear to Wade and James that they needed to keep up. “Boston kind of set the blueprint for a lot of teams when they decided to make the trade for [Kevin Garnett] and for Ray [Allen],’’ James said. “You saw guys making sacrifices to come together to play as one. They set the blueprint and they did it — they won the championship, they competed every year and in multiple championships.’’

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