On a night where Rajon Rondo was a one man wrecking crew, the Miami Heat displayed newfound patience and resiliency –which was missing a season ago– to upend the Boston Celtics 115-111 in overtime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rondo put on one of the greatest performances in Celtics franchise history. He scored 44 points on 16-of-24 shots from the field, along with 10 assists (to just three turnovers) and eight rebounds while playing ever minute (53 minutes) of regulation and overtime. Yet still, despite his stellar performance, two-thirds of the Heat’s Big Three; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, were able to offset Rondo’s masterful outing and send the C’s back to Boston down 0-2 in the series.
After thoroughly dominating Game 1 of the Eastern Finals, Miami outlasted and overwhelmed the aging Celtics –who were at their best in Game 2– with their youth, athleticism. Although, I enjoyed seeing Miami pound Boston to a pulp, what impressed me even more than the Heat’s speed drills and high-flying act was their mental toughness, when the game was on the line. The Heat have now won five games in a row, all without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, and have done so with a combination of authority, parity and resilience. After trailing by 15 points in the first half and by five with three minutes to play, the Heat found a way to force the game into OT, despite Rondo’s career high and Ray Allen’s rediscovered stroke from behind the arc. The Celtics scored 99 points in regulation –the most Miami has allowed all postseason– and still the Heat head to Beantown up two games to none.
Sure, many can say that the officiating may have determined the outcome of the game (the Heat took 18 more foul shots than the C’s, 47-29) but what can’t be ignored is that this was the third time in the Heat’s five-game win steak that they’ve managed to rally back after being down by double digits to win. The Celtics had been 33-1 when they held a 14-point or more lead over their opponents, but Miami never wavered. What plagued this team a month ago, all of a sudden, bears no mention. In Bosh’s absence, James and Wade have been stellar. Despite Boston’s controlling the pace and the boards most of Game 2, South Beach’s dynamic duo turned up the heat (pun intended) in the third quarter and reversed a 53-46 Celtics advantage during halftime into an 84-77 Miami lead headed into the fourth.
James, the NBA’s newly crowned MVP, struggled from the field, shooting a dismal 7-of-20 from the floor, including missing the final two shots of regulation. Yet despite his poor shooting LeBron wouldn’t allow the Heat to lose. He nailed successive threes in the third that allowed Miami to stay close until Wade, who also struggled in the first half, to exploded in the fourth and overtime. King James led the Heat with 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, but it was his impact at the free-throw line and moving without the ball that proved to be the difference. He converted 18-of-24 foul shots (remember Boston attempted 29 free throws) and plowed the paint to open up lanes for Wade to finish at the rim. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP will to win was unmatched as well. Wade scored eight of his 22 points in overtime, including a crucial And-1 bucket against Kevin Garnett in the waning moments of overtime.
Combined the Heat shot 54 percent from the field in the second half, scoring 40 points in the paint and 18 second-chance points. With continued big plays from role players Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem, who scored 22 points and 13 points respectively, the Heat will need to dig deep to close out the Celtics in Boston. On Wednesday, Miami played well despite Rondo being so great. Now, all LBJ and company have to do is maintain their level of play down the stretch to reign supreme in Boston.
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