Although it was on life support last night, the Celtics' undefeated start is alive.
After blowing a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead, the Celtics pushed their record to 8-0 with a 92-91 victory over the Miami Heat at TD Banknorth Garden. Boston's start is its best since the 1972-73 team opened with 10 straight wins. The franchise record is 14-0 by the 1957-58 edition.
"We are nowhere near where we want to be," said Paul Pierce, who scored what turned out to be the winning basket with 25 seconds remaining. "We're far from being a perfect team."
Kevin Garnett scored a team-high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Celtics. Pierce (12) scored 11 points fewer than his average while playing with an injured back, and Ray Allen missed 10 of 15 shots en route to 19 points. The Heat's Dwyane Wade was long with a shot just before the buzzer.
"We won the game and it was actually a great game to win," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Just last season, the Heat were the defending NBA champions and Wade was the darling of the league, even over the likes of LeBron James. The combination of Wade and Shaquille O'Neal was as intimidating as any in sports. But the Heat's reign was short-lived, as they were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs.
Knee and shoulder injuries kept Wade out of the first seven games this season. There has been talk that the 35-year-old O'Neal is on the decline. And without Wade, Miami opened 1-6.
Celtic James Posey, however, knows that with two All-Stars such as Wade and O'Neal, the Heat always have a chance to win. In fact, he warned his new teammates of such before the game.
"We knew they weren't going to lie down and it was going to be tough," said Posey.
The Celtics were up, 86-71, after a Garnett 11-foot jumper with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter. But the Heat went on a 15-0 run, capped by an O'Neal free throw. The Celtics scored for the first time in more than six minutes when Allen hit two free throws with 2:08 left for an 88-86 lead.
"We weren't making stops," Posey said. "They got whatever they wanted. They were scoring and we came down and turned the ball over. We couldn't make any shots. This is the NBA and teams are going to make runs."
Rajon Rondo (9 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds) nailed a 21-foot jumper with 1:35 left to push the Celtics ahead, 90-86. But the pesky Heat stayed tough, tying the score at 90 on a ferocious fast-break dunk by rookie Daequan Cook, who was fouled by Posey. Cook, however, followed with one of Miami's 12 missed free throws.
"We did a great job of coming back and we had the opportunity to try to win a ballgame," said Wade, who had a team-high 23 points. "And that's all you can ask for on the road is put yourself in an opportunity to win the game."
After a steal by Udonis Haslem, Garnett fouled him with the score tied at 90. Haslem made 1 of 2 with 33.5 seconds left.
"I felt like an idiot, but luckily my teammates had my back," Garnett said.
Although Pierce was struggling offensively, Rivers called a play for him called "Slice." A relatively easy layup resulted with 25 seconds left.
"Truthfully, I was surprised Coach called the play for me," Pierce said. "I've been struggling with a strain in my back and I've been struggling all night. But he still has tremendous confidence in me, in all of us, and I wanted to be there for my teammates at the end. It was a good call."
After Pierce's hoop, it wasn't surprising Miami put the ball in Wade's hands. Defending Wade was his former teammate, Posey. With time running down, Wade attempted a 21-foot jumper, but didn't connect, and Posey grabbed the rebound.
"I was familiar with him a little bit, playing with him for the most part and knowing his tendencies a bit," Posey said. "But the bottom line is just trying to make him work hard for everything and being aggressive on the defensive end, as well."
Said Wade: "I missed the shot, but Posey can have all the credit if that's what they want to give him."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org