MIAMI -- Paul Pierce hit a 3-pointer over LeBron James with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter, a gutsy shot that put the cap on a second-half comeback by the Celtics in their 94-90 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday night.
With the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead, coach Doc Rivers isolated Pierce with James on the left side of the court. Pierce dribbled, surveyed the court, then stepped back and launched a shot over James that grazed the back of the rim and plunged straight through. Several hundred Celtics fans at American Airlines Arena stood and cheered as some Heat fans gasped at the result and significance of the play. The Celtics held on by making all four of their free throws in the final 53 seconds.
Pierce was an unlikely hero considering his auspicious start. The Celtics captain started the game making 2 of his first 10 shots from the floor. If you had told Doc Rivers before the game that Kevin Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen would combine to shoot 7 of 28 at halftime and he'd only be down two points, he'd have called you a liar. Then he would have taken it. That was the situation the Celtics were in at halftime, despite shooting 33 percent as a team and despite making just 1 of 6 3-pointers. James had 18 points at the break, but where the Celtics did well was holding the remaining Heat players to 8-of-29 shooting.
The Celtics looked down and out when Garnett went to the bench with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter and the Celtics trailing, 57-50. The lead grew to nine on the next possession, but Boston cut that lead to three with Garnett on the bench, the beginning of a 15-1 run. Garnett would come back into the game as the Celtics scored the final 11 points of the third quarter to lead by five heading into the fourth quarter. Their 62-60 lead with 49 seconds remaining came on a Mickael Pietrus jump shot and was their first lead of the game.
The fourth quarter saw the return of brilliant basketball, with both teams stepping up and delivering. Rajon Rondo struggled his way through the game, but his hustle on a loose ball led to an offensive rebound and a crucial jump shot by Pietrus in the final minutes. Rondo was just 3 of 15 from the floor but was plus-11 for the game.
Pierce finished with 19 points, while Garnett led the Celtics with 26 points and 11 rebounds. James led all scorers with 30.
Game 6 is Thursday night in Boston, where the Celtics can close out the series and earn their third trip to the NBA Finals in five seasons.
Final: Celtics 94, Heat 90
8.8 seconds, Celtics 94-90: James, Garnett exchange free throws.
13.8 seconds, Celtics 92-88: Ray Allen gets fouled and hits two.
15.2 seconds, Celtics 90-88: Heat get a stop, Wade drives and draws a foul on Pierce.
41.1 seconds, Celtics 90-86: Ball out of bounds, looked to be off Haslem. Original call was off the Celtics. Officials review and overturn it.
52.9 seconds, Celtics 90-86: Pierce with a gutsy 3-pointer right over LeBron. Wow.
1:12 4th quarter, Celtics 87-86: Call goes the other way as Pierce gets called for one on the rebounding action.
1:34 4th quarter, Tied at 85: Wade gets no call on one end but finishes, Pierce drives on the other end and gets the foul call. Just interesting.
2:54 4th quarter, Celtics 81-80: What a play by Rondo crashing into the lane to keep an offensive rebound alive and give the Celtics a chance to score. The ball skipped out to Pietrus, and it eventually found Garnett for a jumper to give the Celtics the lead back. Mario Chalmers just picked up a technical foul as well.
5:16 4th quarter, Heat 78-75: Has Mickael Pietrus ever not bitten on a Wade or James pump fake? Pietrus is getting exploited on defense, but he just hit a big 3-pointer after Brandon Bass's missed dunk careened out to him in the corner. It's about time to bring Garnett back in.
7:11 4th quarter, Heat 74-72: LeBron hits a 3-pointer to give him 28 points. KG is back on the bench. Better not be for too long.
9:06 4th quarter, Celtics 70-69: Both Rondo and Pierce fail to protect the ball on consecutive possessions as Miami makes a mini-run here to cut it to one. The Heat can score so, so quickly. Celtics can't afford any lapses.
9:48 4th quarter, Celtics 70-65: Heavy doses of LeBron here in the fourth quarter. Want to know something incredible? Rajon Rondo has just three points.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 65-60: The Celtics close the third quarter on an 11-0 run, capped by long jumpers from Pietrus and Dooling. Who would have thought that?
1:32 3d quarter, Tied at 60: Garnett is back in the game, and Miami forgets to cover him, so he floats down the lane for a monster jam. That dunk was loud, even from the other side of the arena.
2:01 3d quarter, Heat 60-56: When KG sat down the Heat lead was seven, then nine. It's now four. That's huge.
3:48 3d quarter, Heat 59-54: Garnett's out of the game, and the Celtics have actually cut into the lead a bit in the last two minutes. The goal here is to pretty much break even with KG on the bench. Anything else is a bonus.
6:25 3d quarter, Heat 57-50: Celtics play zone for a couple of possessions. LeBron camps out on the baseline and gets the ball down low to beat it. A turnover leads to a Wade dunk, then Battier nails a 3-pointer. The idea of a zone is good, but the Celtics don't play a very good one. Even Garnett looks lost on which man to step up on. The C's are at their best playing aggressive, man-to-man, helping defense.
9:53 3d quarter, Heat 46-44: Garnett gets two baskets to start the second half. The Celtics are going to him after a poor start, and he's delivering. He's got 12 points.
Halftime, Heat 42-40: It's anybody's ball game. The Celtics are shooting 33 percent, have made 1 of 6 3-pointers, and are being out-rebounded by nine, but they're only down by two. Brandon Bass has 10 points and three rebounds. LeBron James leads all scorers with 18 points.
A concern for the second half: Rondo really seems to be favoring his right arm.
2:02 2d quarter, Heat 38-36: Great offensive rebound and putback for Garnett, plus one. He needed that one to get going. The Celtics are in this game despite poor shooting. One concern? Rondo looks to be playing with one arm. He isn't passing the ball with his left arm, and he's going so far as to not even look to the left side of the floor on the break.
5:15 2d quarter, Heat 36-28: Players not named LeBron James are shooting a combined 15-51 from the floor.
6:21 2d quarter, Heat 32-26: The Celtics are plus-6 at the free throw line. So much for home court advantage.
7:50 2d quarter, Heat 31-23: Rondo is playing with a black sling on his left elbow. He just corralled an offensive rebound with the same arm, and in one motion put the ball back up and in without using his right arm. Pretty good stuff.
10:24 2d quarter, Heat 28-16: Pierce does the right thing and takes it to the basket, but he's called for the charge running into Mike Miller. Celtics are anemic.
End 1st quarter, Heat 23-16: Rondo is on the Celtics bench with an ice pack on his elbow. The Celtics are 6 for 20. Paul Pierce leads Boston with six points. Outside of him, there's not much good to say about Boston's offense.
1:17 1st quarter, Heat 24-13: Chris Bosh is back in a big way. He just completed a 3-point play and was understandably fired up. The crowd here likes having him back. So far, he's a game-changer.
3:18 1st quarter, Heat 16-9: Rondo (0 for 5) is off to a bad start. He needs to be great, not just good, for the Celtics to win this series. He can't be this.
5:06 1st quarter, Heat 13-9: LeBron tweaks his left ankle. Rondo earns his second foul. Chris Bosh ready to check in. Celtics are 4 of 12.
5:42 1st quarter, Heat 11-9: Greg Stiemsma is in the game for Garnett. We'll see how the Celtics do in this stretch.
6:00 1st quarter, Heat 11-9: Rondo dives for a loose ball and comes up holding his wrist. Seems to be OK.
8:53 1st quarter, Heat 9-2: It's coming too easily for the Heat at the moment. Wade leaked out for a dunk, then buried a wide-open three in Rondo's face.
11:40 1st quarter, 0-0: Udonis Haslem starting, as expected. Kevin Garnett left him wide open, and Haslem traveled with the ball driving the lane. This is why Miami needs Chris Bosh.
Pregame: We're getting closer to Game 5. Chris Bosh will be a game-time decision, but it looks like he'll play. Doc Rivers joked in his pre-game press conference that Bosh would probably enter the game when Garnett took his first breather. It could happen.