MIAMI — The Miami Heat has relied on the same plot line for nearly two weeks. Trouble arrives, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade get out their capes and soar to the rescue. As Miami lost a fourth-quarter lead Wednesday and landed in overtime, that routine seemed to have run its course. For more than a quarter, there had been precious little soaring and no resuscitation in sight. The Heat went mostly quiet and cold.
But then there was a rescue. It was set up by the Heat’s hustling Udonis Haslem, who scored four crucial points in overtime and then let Wade step in to finish off the drama with a touch of beauty.
Wade slipped around a screen set by James, went up against Kevin Garnett, and dropped in a running layup with 59.7 seconds left to all but end the Boston Celtics’ hopes in the 115-111 overtime victory for Miami in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals at American Airlines Arena.
Wade, who scored only two points in the first half but finished with 23, got the foul, nailed the free throw and gave Miami a five-point lead that it wouldn’t relinquish as it took a 2-0 lead in the series.
“You just can’t be any other way with this team,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It has to be the hard way.”
Wade added three more free throws as the Celtics fouled and Rajon Rondo, who scored a game-high 44 points with eight rebounds and 10 assists, hit a fadeaway three-point shot in the waning seconds.
“It was grueling,” Wade said. “We put a lot of effort into coming back. . . . I’ve been trying to be patient. I’m reading throughout the game. Right now I think I’m playing, making the right adjustments for my team to win. That’s what’s important.”
A game that surged from fast-paced and exciting to slow-paced, free-throw dominated and stultifying, came down to big shots by players you don’t hear much about. Wade helped Miami overcome a 15-point deficit in the third quarter but Shane Battier and Haslem nailed big shots late in the fourth quarter. Battier hit a three-pointer and Haslem a jumper under pressure.
The Heat needed all of that as Ray Allen, who has been hobbled by a right ankle problem hit an open three-point shot with 34.3 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
“We have the guys capable to win games,” Allen said. “We just have to make sure we execute down the stretch. . . . They ended up making plays down the stretch.”
Actually, the Heat fumbled opportunities, too. Miami had two chances to win the game in regulation, but James missed twice in the waning seconds. On a feed from Wade off a pick-and-roll, he misfired in traffic. Miami got the rebound, reset its offense and James missed again from 22 feet with 1.9 seconds remaining to keep the score tied.
James scored 34 points, shooting 7 for 20 from the field and 18 for 24 from the line. Held scoreless for most of the first half, Wade scored 12 during a comeback third quarter for Miami. Point guard Mario Chalmers emerged as an unlikely hero and steady player, leading the Heat in scoring in the first half and finishing with 22.
“Tonight was tough,” Spoelstra said. “It was ugly at times. We were able to stay in it with our minds.”
Rondo schooled Miami early, and came up with key offensive and defensive plays late. Ray Allen, however, expressed dismay with a non-call on a Rondo drive with just over a minute left. Rondo appeared to have been struck on the face.
“We all thought he got hit,” Allen said. “I’ll say it. What can we do about it?”
The Heat went to the free throw line 47 times Wednesday, converting 31. Boston hit 26 for 29.
Down 53-46 at the start of the second half, Boston pushed its lead to 11 on a dunk by Paul Pierce, who had 21 points, and a layin by Rondo before Wade finally got involved. After James hit back-to-back three-point shots, Wade scored his second basket of the game and then fed Haslem to get Miami within five, 61-56.
He was just getting started. Wade finished the 12-0 scoring run by converting a layup and free throw. The Heat entered the fourth quarter up, 81-75. The Heat hit 13 of 20 shots (65 percent) during the 35-point period and outrebounded the Celtics, 13-5.
The high-scoring third quarter turned into a bullish fourth. Both teams scrapped and struggled to score, limping to the free-throw line more often than dropping big shots. The Celtics retook the lead, 86-85, on a steal by Rondo and easy layup after Mickael Pietrus hit a three-point shot with a little more than eight minutes remaining.
Unlike the start of Game 1, Boston could hardly miss in the first half, and Miami couldn’t make much of anything. At halftime, it was Chalmers who led the scoring for the Heat with 14 points on five of 10 from the field, including a trio of threes that helped Miami get back in the game
Boston, meantime, got contributions from all corners as Rondo did his thing. He hit short jumpers. He penetrated and passed. He penetrated and drew fouls. He scored 22 first-half points, going 7 for 11 from the field and 8 for 10 from the free-throw line.
And he never rested. By night’s end, he had played all 53 minutes.
“It’s kind of irrelevant in that we lost,” Rondo said. “Simple as that.”