MIAMI - Leon Powe started for just the second time this season and played a career-high 42 minutes. Mikki Moore collected four fouls in the first quarter. Seldom-used 6-foot-6-inch rookie Bill Walker played power forward.
The odd circumstances were too much to overcome last night for the injury-depleted Celtics as they lost, 107-99, to the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Celtics are 2-3 in March and 0-2 this season without both Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Boston (49-16) is two games behind the first-place Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
"It's a challenge," said Ray Allen of playing with just 10 healthy bodies. "But this space, this time period, it's going to make us better.
"I'm up for it. I look at it as a great time to try to make this team better. Guys who are healing up from injuries, they'll be back in due time and we'll be ready to make a push."
The Celtics were without Garnett (knee), Rondo (ankle), forward Glen Davis (ankle), Brian Scalabrine (concussion), and guard Tony Allen (thumb surgery). None is expected to play tomorrow against Memphis at TD Banknorth Garden.
"Everybody goes through it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It is something you go through as a coach and you just have to keep pushing your guys and try to yank out wins. We just need to see how many wins we can get through this tough stretch, and we are going to get some wins."
"They still have Paul Pierce and Ray Allen," said Heat star Dwyane Wade, who scored a game-high 32 points. "That's more than most teams have."
Allen scored 27 points, but only 3 in the second half. Powe added 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Eddie House had 12 points off the bench. While five Celtics scored at least 12 points, newcomers Stephon Marbury and Moore shot a combined 0 for 9 while going scoreless. The Celtics shot 45.2 percent overall and were aided by 8-of-16 shooting on 3-pointers.
"We came up short in the end. I thought we fought hard," Powe said.
Wade added 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals despite a nagging ankle injury. He is averaging a whopping 37.2 points in six games this month.
"What do you want me to say that hasn't been said about [Wade]?" said Pierce. "You all hear it every day. Of course, you already know. He is a great player. He shows tremendous leadership and leads their team."
Allen scored 24 points to spark the Celtics to a 55-50 halftime lead. He nailed 4 of 4 3-pointers and 9 of 11 field goals, while Wade had 16 points. But the Heat (35-29) finished the third with an 82-73 lead after outscoring the Celtics, 32-18, in the quarter while shooting 63.2 percent.
"We just had a bad third quarter," said Pierce, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds. "We just dug ourselves a hole. We have to understand we are a defensive team first. This is how we win games."
The Heat stayed hot, going up, 91-76, on a Daequan Cook fast-break dunk with 9:04 remaining. But consecutive 3-pointers by Pierce and House trimmed the Celtics' deficit to 93-92, capping a 16-2 run with 4:52 remaining.
"When you get down that far and you are fighting back, it's tough to win games, especially on the road," Rivers said.
Jermaine O'Neal hit two free throws to give Miami a 100-95 lead with 3:03 left. Kendrick Perkins (13 points, eight rebounds) made 1 of 2 to bring Boston within 102-98 with 1:27 remaining. But Wade's 3-pointer with 34.8 seconds left pushed the Heat ahead, 107-99. Just like in Sunday's 86-79 loss to Orlando, the Celtics made a late push before falling short.
"It's a challenging time, but at the same time, it's fun to be a part of what's going on because there is growth happening," Allen said. "Every single day, these guys are fighting. There is a lot of resiliency on this team. It seems like there are one or two plays here or there that are not going our way. We're learning all over again.
"When KG comes back, when Glen comes back, when Rondo, all those guys, when we have a full unit again, as hard as Steph and Mikki have worked to catch up, they will realize exactly their place and the transition will be a lot smoother."