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Celtics 85, Heat 76

Celtics push back, put lid on Heat

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 18, 2010

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A little over two minutes into the second half, Doc Rivers had to call a 20-second timeout, not just for his team but for his own sake. The sequence that had just played out was simply too hard for him to digest.

The Celtics had been outshot, outrebounded, and outscored in the first half, and when the third quarter opened it seemed like the Miami Heat would just keep pushing the snowball along. Dwyane Wade was treating the playoff opener like a buffet — a rebound here, an assist there, a couple buckets on the side — but when he grabbed an offensive board off a Jermaine O’Neal miss, it ate at Rivers.

His Celtics were starting to show some of the same signs they had shown throughout a turbulent regular season, and Rivers had to snap them back into reality.

“I just told them, I thought we were hanging our heads and quitting,’’ Rivers said. “I said we’re a defensive team. We can’t worry about missed shots.’’

The urgency had come and gone during the course of a 50-32 campaign. Intensity peaked in elite matchups and reached lows so drastic that the Celtics would lose games to New Jersey, Washington, and New York. This was a different season, however, and the Celtics had to have a different response.

They fell behind by as many as 14 before it clicked. They went from dejected to desperate.

Suddenly the Celtics put a lid on Miami’s rim. They put together a 13-2 run and the brilliance of it wasn’t the three assists Rajon Rondo dumped off or the wide-open 3-pointer that Paul Pierce drilled to cap the run and close the deficit to 63-60, it was the choke hold that the Celtic defense put the Heat in.

The Celtics suddenly went from being on the verge of swallowing a disappointing series-opening loss on their own floor to assembling a 23-point turnaround that sealed their 85-76 win at TD Garden last night. The Heat seemed to invent new ways to miss shots in the second half, missing alley-oops, and watching open jumpers run laps around the inside of the rim before swirling out. Michael Beasley drove for a layup lay-up that made it 76-71 Celtics with 5:56 left, but the Heat stayed stuck on 71 points for the next 4:31, growing more and more frustrated until it finally boiled over.

With 40 seconds left, the teams got into a scrap after Paul Pierce was shoved into the Miami bench. Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Udonis Haslem, and Quentin Richardson were all involved in the dust-up that started when Garnett nudged Richardson away from the fallen Pierce. Technical fouls were issued to Haslem and Richardson. Garnett earned two techs for his part in the mess, but by then the game was just about decided.

Pierce scored 11 of his 16 points in that third quarter. Garnett finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Rondo put up a 10-point, 10-assist night and the Celtics had earned a win and possibly sent a message. This was the only series of the playoffs where they had homecourt advantage and setting a tone was crucial.

“When you get Game 1 at home, you don’t find yourself backpedaling and pressuring yourself to go up on the road and win. It sets the tone for the series,’’ said Pierce.

Rivers had to take 20 seconds to get his point across, but it’s possible he sent a message that will last the rest of the series.

“After that I thought we needed to play hard,’’ Rivers said. “The urgency and playing hard was the key. Whether things are going right or not, we can’t be a team that functions only when things are going our way.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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