Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 6/6/12
MIAMI For nearly two years, the incessant examinations of the Miami Heat have centered on the audacious notion that three sublime talents, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, can join up with a solid cast of veteran role players and win not one, not two well, you know the rest championships. There have been twists and turns, failures and triumphs, but not until now have the Boston Celtics so vividly displayed what was missing when the Heat were constructed in the Celtics' image intelligent design. After losing the first two games of the series, the Celtics now return home with a chance to close out the Eastern Conference finals after their 94-90 victory Tuesday, their third consecutive win. And in turning this series on its head, the Celtics have also exposed Miami as everything they are not a collection of individuals without a collective soul (or much resolve) and who rarely do the little things that separate those who are champions from those who are not. "Unintelligent play has been our demise," said Miami forward Shane Battier, whose career has been built on being in the right place at the right time. It was hard to see this coming, in that wouldn't Boston aging, injured and worn out from a seven-game series with Philadelphia find itself running on fumes if the series wore on? And yet this series has the same vibe as the Finals did a year ago, when Miami was ready to seize control over Dallas, but a savvy, skilled team with superior tactics revived itself and the Heat seemed powerless to get off the mat. When questions of resolve surface here, the most picked-over target, of course, is James, who won the Most Valuable Player award for the third time in four seasons, but has twice been unable to deliver game-winning plays at the end of games in this series. He was unable Tuesday night to turn the game on the defensive end, when Paul Pierce, his longtime foil, dribbled the shot clock down before pulling up for a 3-pointer over James' outstretched arm that gave Boston a 90-86 lead with 52.9 seconds left. The Celtics closed out the game, fittingly enough, when the other members of their old triumvirate Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett sank four free throws. "We're just hanging in there," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Man, I tell you, they jumped on us at the beginning of the game and we just told our guys, just hang in there. Don't overreact. Hang in there. The longer we're in the game, the better we'll play." It was a prescient assessment. The Celtics made up a 13-point second quarter deficit. Then they crawled out of a nine-point hole in the third. And, finally, they rallied from six back in the fourth. If you were treading through a box score, it would be hard to find much wrong with Miami. James and Wade were largely terrific, James with 30 points, 13 rebounds and two steals while Wade finished with 27 points and six rebounds, once again taking over the second half after ceding the first to James. Bosh, playing for the first time in 23 days after straining an abdominal muscle and dealing with the tragedy of the death of his masseuse Monday -- fit right in as Miami's third-best player with nine points and seven rebounds, six of them on the offensive end in just less than 15 minutes. The role players contributed, as well, with Udonis Haslem grabbing 14 rebounds, Mario Chalmers hitting a big 3-pointer (and missing one) and James Jones giving them a boost with his defense. And the Heat had 10 more rebounds than Miami. But the true measure of the Heat's shortcomings lay, as they have all series, in the details. If there was a loose ball, it was the older Celtics often reaching it first. If there was a tactical decision, it was Rivers throwing it out and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra having to react. And through five games, it is typically the Celtics who have been in the right place at the right time, making the right decision. Midway through the fourth quarter, Miami had surged to a 78-72 lead on a 10-0 run when Wade made a spectacular block of Brandon Bass' attempted dunk. It was a stunning display of athleticism that might have flustered many teams, but when the ball headed back toward the free-throw line, there was Rondo by himself but with James closing in. Rather than grab the ball, Rondo swatted it to the corner, into the hands of Mickael Pietrus as he stood behind the 3-point line. It had not been a comfortable place for Pietrus, who had made one of his previous 10 3-pointers in the series. No worries. Pietrus, whose 13 points more than doubled his output from the rest of the series, coolly sank the shot to keep the Celtics within striking distance. "Plays like that are just so deflating," said Battier, trying to laugh off the disappointment. "You make an incredible effort and you just can't close off the possession with a board and it becomes a deflating play for us. That summed up our night." Now, Miami must go to Boston, where it has lost 15 of its last 16 games, to try to keep its season alive. Just a few short days ago, the Heat rolled into Boston with a 2-0 lead and much of the talk, with Allen and Garnett free agents, centering on whether this would be the last run for the Celtics' Big Three. "I never thought we would be in this situation," said Wade, who earlier in the season said it was championship or bust for the Heat. "I'm not really surprised by much I've seen a lot. So this is not an ideal situation, but we're not going to have no excuses." The environment in Boston will only make the task more daunting. Certainly it will be harsher than the American Airlines Arena, which has the NBA's loudest music and quietest fans, as if one compensates for the other. To prepare, the Heat will hear plenty of white noise in the next two days about their future. Questions about whether one more loss could spell the end of this grand experiment will carry more resonance. Will the departure of Bosh or Wade through a trade be a fix? Will a more tested hand be asked to replace Spoelstra, and would Pat Riley dare ask his old rival, Phil Jackson? Spoelstra, as he arrived at the interview podium afterward, offered a pre-emptive strike, an assessment that, naturally, seemed to miss the point. "OK, it's a loss and that's all it is," Spoelstra said. "That's what our focus is right now to fight any kind of noise from the outside or any human condition, and to collectively come together to prepare for the next game. This is what the playoffs are all about. It tests your collective character and your resolve." And for the Heat, isn't that the problem?
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