MIAMI — In 72 playoff games since 2007-08, the Celtics had never faced an elimination game prior to Game 7. Against a younger, more athletic, more talented Miami Heat team in Game 5 at American Airlines Arena Wednesday night, the Celtics couldn’t hold it off any longer.
The Celtics led for the majority of the first three quarters and led 87-81 with 4:29 remaining in the fourth, but the Heat ended the game on a 16-0 run and eliminated the Celtics in five games with a 97-87 win. Miami advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Celtics are left to ponder the future of their coach and their aging core.
“It’s not the way you want to end a game or season,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
The Celtics took advantage of an early start and a late-arriving crowd and surprised the Heat in the first quarter, jumping out to a 24-16 lead. Kevin Garnett must have taken offense to the criticism he took following Boston’s Game 4 loss, because the Big Ticket came out firing in Game 5, hitting 5-of-7 shots for 12 points. Meanwhile the Celtics locked down Miami on defense, holding the Heat to 31-percent shooting. James was 0-for-4 with one point in the first quarter. Considering Miami’s poor shooting and three careless Boston turnovers, it was hard to shake the feeling that the Celtics should have been up by more.
Miami’s offense wouldn’t stay bogged down for long. Led by Dwyane Wade, the Heat shot 50 percent in the second quarter. The Heat scored on 7 of 8 possessions near the end of the second. Wade had 12 points in the second and 23 points by halftime.
Wade and Garnett got tangled at the 5:03 mark of the second when Garnett tried to set a screen to free up teammate Ray Allen. Both players fought through it too aggressively and were called for personal fouls, and Allen hit a 3-pointer that counted despite the fouls. Paul Pierce picked up his third personal foul with 1:44 remaining in the quarter and went to the bench.
Pierce’s foul proved to be crucial, because he picked up his fourth at the 8:40 mark of the third quarter. The Celtics stole a few minutes with Pierce on the floor and got their lead up to six, but the Heat fought back with Pierce off the floor and took their first lead since they led 4-2 less than three minutes into the game. But the Celtics fought back to take a 73-71 lead after three, getting big minutes off the bench from Nenad Krstic (eight points).
The Celtics started the fourth with a 6-1 run and put pressure on the home team to come back for the first time in three games in Miami. But as they have all series, the Heat found a way to score easily when it mattered. The Celtics led 87-81 with 4:29 remaining, but saw the Heat go on a 16-0 run to close the game. James, who had been relatively quiet (for him), hit the first of two huge 3-pointers with 2:10 left, and hit another with 40 seconds left to put the Heat up by six. It was an awesome display of individual dominance from a player who came to Miami to win his first team championship.
James finished with 33 points, and Wade had 34. Allen led the Celtics with 18. Rondo played 30 minutes, but was not on the floor to close the game.
Final: Heat 97, Celtics 87: Amazing how quickly that got out of hand. Miami ends the game on a 12-0 run. Heat players celebrating on the court like they’ve won something big. They have.
40.4 4th quarter, Heat 93-87: Another 3-pointer from LeBron after a pass sails through Jeff Green’s hands out of bounds. That one’s the killer.
2:10 4th quarter, Heat 90-87: LeBron hits a 3-pointer from just about the same spot, at just about the same time, as he did in Game 4. Dagger. Celtics need an answer.
3:43 4th quarter, Celtics 87-85: James Jones picked a good time to hit his first 3-pointer of the game. Great play by LeBron finding Jones open on the break.
4:59 4th quarter, Celtics 85-81: Pierce picks up his fifth foul.
6:05 4th quarter, Celtics 83-79: Garnett is back in alongside Krstic. West running the point in place of Rondo.
8:46 4th quarter, Celtics 81-74: Both Rondo and O’Neal having their backs attended to on the sideline. Garnett’s been out since the 1:39 mark of the third.
9:52 4th quarter, Celtics 79-72: What a start to the fourth quarter for the Celtics, and they’re doing it with a lineup of Pierce, Allen, Green, Krstic, and West.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 73-71: The Heat took their first lead since leading 4-2 at the 9:33 mark of the first quarter, but the Celtics maintain the leading going into the fourth. Nenad Krstic is giving the Celtics big minutes off the bench to spell Kevin Garnett. He hit a jump shot from the corner with the shot clock winding down and got a block inside on Juwan Howard.
3:23 3d quarter, Tied at 65: Paul Pierce is on the bench and the Celtics are struggling. For the first time all game the crowd is into it.
6:01 3d quarter, Celtics 63-58: The Celtics obviously need Pierce on the floor. He’s got seven points this quarter so far.
8:40 3d quarter, Celtics 54-49: Paul Pierce picks up his fourth foul on the rebounding action. Big call.
Halftime, Celtics 49-47: It’s big for their confidence that the Celtics are leading at the break, even if it’s only by two points. It would help if they led after the third quarter, too.
Dwyane Wade has taken over for Miami to the tune of 23 points. Ray Allen picked up where Kevin Garnett left off, scoring nine points in the second.
1:52 2d quarter, Celtics 45-41: Ray Allen nails his third 3-pointer as a helpless Wade falls into the Celtics bench. Both Allen and Garnett are scoring, and that’s a great soign for the Celtics.
5:03 2d quarter, Celtics 39-31: Very strange play as Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade both get called for personal fouls as Garnett tried to pick off Wade for a Ray Allen 3-pointer. Officials counted the shot. Never seen that.
9:10 2d quarter, Celtics 26-23: Jermaine O’Neal is in the locker room with an undisclosed injury. Nenad Krstic at center for the Celtics.
The Heat start the second on a 7-2 run. They score points so easily sometimes, while the Celtics scratch and claw for every point.
End 1st quarter, Celtics 24-16: Think Kevin Garnett took offense to the criticism following his 1-for-10 performance in Game 4? He’s 5 of 7 for 12 points so far. Meanwhile the Heat are shooting 31 percent. LeBron James has one point.
2:47 1st quarter, Celtics 16-12: Glen Davis takes a charge on Dwyane Huge play for his confidence and for the team.
5:32 1st quarter, Celtics 11-7: Jermaine O’Neal (two blocks) has been very active at the rim on the defensive end. He’s playing great. Bad news for the Celtics as Paul Pierce picked up his second personal foul. The Celtics can’t afford to sit him.
6:57 1st quarter, Celtics 9-4: Garnett puts back a missed shot by O’Neal as the Celtics are leading despite turnovers. Rajon Rondo looks very, very stiff. It looks like both his back and his elbow are bothering him.
10:31 1st quarter, Tied at 2: The Celtics have turned the ball over twice already in careless fashion. Both bad passes were preventable.
Pregame: The PA announcer is urging fans to put on their white “Beat Boston” shirts. Late arriving crowd, but it’s an early game, and these fans can get very loud when their team has a lead. Celtics need to come out strong.