MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James walked toward Mario Chalmers in the final minute with a content look.
He punched his teammate twice in the chest. Fitting, because James and the Miami Heat have now landed two blows against the Boston Celtics.
James scored 24 of his 35 points in the second half, Dwyane Wade added 28 and the Heat used a late 14-0 run to pull away and beat the Celtics 102-91 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Tuesday night.
“Now the mental discipline begins,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This thing is just getting started.”
Chris Bosh finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Miami, which leads the best-of-seven 2-0.
Boston tied the game at 80 on a pair of free throws by Paul Pierce with 7:10 left. The Celtics missed their next six shots and Miami pulled away, taking command of both the game and the series — which doesn’t resume in Boston until Saturday night.
“That’s our staple. We know the only way for us to win games, especially in the playoffs, is to play defense,” James said. “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.”
Rajon Rondo played through a balky back to score 20 points and add 12 assists for Boston, which got 16 points from Kevin Garnett and 13 from Pierce. The Celtics have only rallied from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series once.
Jeff Green scored 11 and Delonte West added 10 for the Celtics, who got only seven from Ray Allen on 2 for 7 shooting.
Even for a franchise with such fabled history as the Celtics, an 0-2 deficit represents a colossal challenge.
This is now the ninth time Boston has dropped the first two games in a best-of-seven series. In the previous eight, the Celtics prevailed only against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1969 NBA finals.
And it’s something this group of Celtics have never faced before, either.
The last time Boston lost the first two games of a playoff matchup was in 2004, when it was swept by Indiana. The current core of Celtics had lost Game 1s four other times before this series, then bounced back to win Game 2 each time, against Chicago and Orlando in 2009, then Cleveland and the Lakers in 2010.
Not this time.
“Nothing we can do about it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
“We’ve got a third game and we’ve got to take care of that. Whatever the past is, it is. They’ve won two games at home. But we can’t allow them to play like this, or it’s going to be tough at our place.”
To win this series, Boston will need to prevail four times in a five-game span — which it did in the first round against Miami last year, then again in the second round at the expense of James and the Cavaliers in the East semis. So it can be done, but neither James (7-0) nor Wade (5-0) has ever been part of a playoff series defeat after their clubs won the first two games.
“This is a great team we are going against right now,” James said. “We’re just trying to give ourselves a good chance to win, just try to keep on attacking them, playing as hard as we can defensively, just trying to wear them down throughout the game, but it’s a great team.”
The Celtics had more than a chance to avoid the 0-2 hole.
James scored 12 points in the third quarter, one more than he managed in the first half, to help Miami take a 72-67 cushion into the final 12 minutes. James then added the first basket of the fourth, but Boston answered with a 13-6 run over the next 4 minutes to knot the game at 80.
Miami’s rebuttal was swift — and crucial.
That’s when Miami’s big run began, including a three-point play where James dunked and got fouled after Joel Anthony kept an offensive rebound alive. Chalmers started it all with a 3-pointer – his only points of the night — off a pass from Wade, and Miami was on its way.
“Great trust,” Spoelstra said.
Jermaine O’Neal had a chance to end Boston’s drought with 4:53 left, but his dunk was partially blocked by Anthony and bounced off the rim. James hit a long jumper from the left corner 17 seconds later, pushing the Heat lead to 92-80, their biggest to that point.
Miami led 27-26 after the first, and giving up that many points likely didn’t sit well with either side.
The defenses eventually arrived.
Consider: Over a span of 7:21 of the second quarter, the Heat managed only six points. And that was one more than Boston did.
The Celtics missed 14 of 15 shots in one stretch of the second, clearly out of rhythm. Pierce went to the locker room late in the first quarter to ice down his left foot, and for one early stint Boston had a lineup of Green, West, Glen Davis, Von Wafer and Nenad Krstic on the floor together.
Green had eight points in the first quarter, a team high to help Boston keep pace. Meanwhile, Miami missed seven straight shots during one span of the second.
But by halftime, the offensive fireworks returned.
Wade jab-stepped his way around Garnett — faking him badly – for a three-point play, then used some more fancy footwork to get free of Allen for a 3-pointer and a 47-40 lead with 3 seconds left in the half. Rondo made a pair of free throws with 0.9 ticks remaining, after referee Greg Willard determined he was bumped at midcourt by James Jones.
“We have to find a way to finish quarters better,” Rivers said.
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