Remember when the Miami Heat struggled to compete against elite teams during the regular season? Those days are looking long gone after the Heat took a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals over the Boston Celtics with a 102-91 win Tuesday night.
Miami looked nothing like the team that faltered against the defending Eastern Conference champs in their first three regular season matchups, closing the game on a 22-11 run after Boston tied the game midway through the fourth quarter.
The Heat's Big Three combined for 80 points, nearly matching the output of the entire Celtics team. LeBron James led all scorers with 35 points, 24 of which came in the second half. Dwyane Wade scored 28, while Chris Bosh put a disappointing Game 1 behind him with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The game started off with a bang, as both teams scored seemingly at will in the first quarter, with the Heat taking a 27-26 lead. But then the defenses took over, with both teams combining for 11 points a span of 7:21 of the second quarter.
Miami's offense returned by halftime, capped by a Wade jab-step around Celtics forward Kevin Garnett that left KG befuddled and resulted in a three-point play.
As they did in Game 1, the Celtics kept themselves in the game into the fourth quarter. With Miami clinging to a 5-point lead to start the final period, Boston chipped away at the Heat, tying the game at 80 with 7:10 left.
But the Heat responded with a 14-0 run that put away the Celtics for good.
Miami's defense came up big late, allowing only 11 points in the final 7 minutes. Joel Anthony blocked three shots coming off the bench, once again eliciting MVP chants from the home crowd, who was only half-kidding.
"That's our staple. We know the only way for us to win games, especially in the playoffs, is to play defense," James said after the game. "Everyone has each other's back. If one guy gets beat, another steps up. They made a run, a heck of a run... but we just kept grinding, kept playing our principles, and we finally wore them down."
The win puts Boston in a big hole. The Celtics' core has never lost the first two games in a playoff series, dating back to 2008. Two starters were hampered with injuries during the game. Paul Pierce briefly left the game in the first quarter to ice down his left foot, while Rajon Rondo played with a balky back.
They will not get another crack at the Heat until Saturday, when the series resumes in Boston. "Now the mental discipline begins," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "This thing is just getting started."
David Hill is a Miami native and former owner of a youth replica Rony Seikaly jersey.