The Celtics leaned on a host of players and seized nearly every critical moment to cobble together an excruciatingly hard-fought 94-90 victory, which gave them a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals while pushing the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination.
Even after Pierce’s three-pointer gave the Celtics a four-point lead with 52.9 seconds left and silenced the American Airlines Arena crowd, the game didn’t feel secure until Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett each made two free throws in the final seconds.
“I asked a lot of our guys — maybe too much, honestly, at times — and they came through,” Boston Coach Doc Rivers said. “We just hung around long enough to get to the fourth quarter.”
The crushing defeat left the Heat, which has lost three straight games in the series after taking a 2-0 lead, in jeopardy of getting knocked from the playoffs Thursday in Boston. The Heat must hope for a Game 7 on Saturday in Miami for any hope of returning to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Miami forward Chris Bosh, who returned to action and scored nine points after having missed nine playoff games because of an abdominal strain. “It’s going to be an extremely difficult time. . . . I think we’re in the biggest challenge of our lives right now, of our professional careers.”
Miami was led by 30 points from James, who also grabbed 13 rebounds, and 27 from Wade, as the Heat shot just 39 percent from the field.
Throughout Tuesday’s rugged contest, the Celtics didn’t rely on any one player. Not their aging Big Three, or even their slithering star, Rajon Rondo. They depended on a whole bunch of guys for critical shots and critical stops.
Garnett overcame a slow start to score 26 points on a night when Rondo scored only seven on 3-of-15 shooting from the field. Rondo rolled up 13 assists, however, as five Celtics scored in double figures. Pierce got 19; Brandon Bass, 10; Ray Allen, 13; and Mickael Pietrus — who hit two late three-pointers — tallied 13.
“We wouldn’t be in this situation, up 3-2, if it wasn’t for our entire team,” Rondo said.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra sounded uncustomarily defensive during his postgame meeting with members of the media. He said the Heat would look forward to Thursday’s game and not back at the last three, all of which have been close and not one of which has seen Miami stand up and make key late shots.
“Okay, it’s a loss, and that’s all it is,” he said. “What our focus is right now is to fight any kind of noise from the outside, or any human condition, and to collectively come together strong to prepare for the next game.”