Celtics 112, Heat 106

Celtics pull one out in overtime

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 7, 2010

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MIAMI - So much for easing Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo back into action. The Celtics threw both players into the fire last night, and they responded with some spectacular late-game heroics in a 112-106 victory over the Miami Heat.

Pierce, out since Dec. 22 with a knee infection, and Rondo, recovering from a hamstring strain, combined to tie the score just before the buzzer in regulation time. Then, Rondo scored 6 of the team’s 11 overtime points as the Celtics overcame a 44-point performance from Dwyane Wade.

Wade scored 4 points in the final 5.5 seconds of regulation, appearing to clinch a Miami victory as he knocked Ray Allen off the ball for a steal and dunk for a 101-99 lead with 0.6 seconds left. But the Celtics called a timeout and Pierce lofted the inbounds pass from in front of the scorer’s table to Rondo, who leaped over Mario Chalmers to bank in the tying points.

“We’ve been working on that play for a long time, actually since last year,’’ Rondo said. “As soon as Wade stole the ball I knew exactly which play we were going to run. Great pass, it was perfect, threw it right in front of the rim - just had to catch it and lay it in. He wanted me to dunk it but I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to miss a dunk for the game, just try to lay it in.’ ’’

The Celtics hoped for both Pierce (17 points in 43 minutes) and Rondo (25 points in 50 minutes) to be able to pace themselves on this trip, which continues in Atlanta tomorrow and concludes in Toronto Sunday. But it was all hands on deck with Marquis Daniels (wrist), Kevin Garnett (knee), and Eddie House (flu-like symptoms) out, and three players in foul trouble early in the second half.

The Celtics never solved Wade, who scored 18 points in the first quarter and piled up fouls on both Ray and Tony Allen, who had four by the third quarter. But the Celtics were able to limit the rest of the Heat.

Wade dunked off a steal to start the overtime. But the Celtics scored 7 successive points over a 3:30 stretch, taking a 5-point lead on Rondo’s drive. Wade’s 3-pointer out of a timeout cut the Miami deficit to 108-106 with 51.3 seconds on the clock. Then Rondo’s one-hander made it 110-106 with 34.3 seconds left.

Wade missed a 3-pointer and Ray Allen clinched the result with two foul shots with 16.4 seconds left as the American Airlines Arena crowd cleared out and handful of fans started a “Let’s go Celtics’’ chant.

“What a great win - we had it in our hands and then we literally gave it back,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “Then, for us to just keep believing - what a great win.’’

The Celtics appeared to be coasting to victory in the third quarter.

Pierce, who did not take a shot until hitting a 3-pointer in the second quarter, hit a free throw to increase the Celtics’ edge to 69-61 with 6:07 remaining in the third. Miami called time, then went on a 15-4 run over a 4:39 span, keyed by three Wade assists. Jermaine O’Neal gave the Heat a 76-73 lead with 2:15 left in the quarter, Boston’s manpower situation becoming complicated as Wallace became the third Celtic to accumulate four fouls before the end of the quarter.

The Heat maintained momentum with Wade on the bench to start the final quarter - a 9-3 start provided a 9-point edge, Wade returning to set up Udonis Haslem for an 89-78 advantage with 7:36 left.

A Pierce drive out of a timeout started a 10-2 Celtics rally. Rasheed Wallace followed a Wade airball with a 3-pointer off a Pierce penetration to cut the deficit to 6 with 6:38 remaining.

Then the Celtics gained possession following a 63-second Heat possession, which included five Miami misses, Ray Allen’s 3-pointer making it 91-88 with 4:25 remaining. Haslem’s jumper out of a timeout restored a 5-point Miami lead. But Wallace dunked and hit a trey in a 59-second span to tie it.

Pierce missed a shot, but Kendrick Perkins tipped the rebound to Wallace, Rondo ultimately driving for a 95-93 Celtic lead with 2:04 to play. Quentin Richardson then disputed being called for a block on Pierce, Ray Allen converting the technical foul shot to extend an 18-4 run over a 6:25 period.

But Rondo missed a chance to extend the advantage, and Haslem drew Wallace’s sixth foul, cutting the Miami deficit to 96-95 with 1:10 remaining. Ray Allen’s 3-pointer made it a 4-point Celtic lead with 53.1 on the clock, but O’Neal made it 99-97 with 33.5 seconds remaining.

Pierce failed on a drive, and Wade scored 4 points in 4.9 seconds, tying the score with two free throws, then stealing from Allen for what had looked to be the winning dunk.

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