Sloppy start, finish did in Celtics
While Wade's glossy 46-point output -- the highest of his playoff career -- is hard to look past, particularly the way he single-handedly rallied the Heat at the start of the fourth quarter of a do-or-die game, the Celtics' mental lapses led to their 101-92 loss in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Celtics pack a 3-1 series lead and head back to Boston for Game 5 on Tuesday.
For all their talk about being focused solely on Game 4, the Celtics sure didn't appear poised at the start of Sunday's game. The first quarter featured a slew of ill-advised shots and sloppy passes that handed the Heat a pair of big runs.
Boston spent much of its energy over the next two quarters climbing out of that hole, then watched helplessly as Wade took over in the fourth. Even still, Boston had a chance to win late, but missed several bunnies and free throws, ensuring at least four more quarters of basketball against Wade and the Heat.
"I can't argue with anything that happened for us offensively," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We missed two point-blank layups and five free throws in a row [late in the game]. Ray [Allen] missed three free throws and Kevin [Garnett] missed two. I told our guys, that's the human part of the game. I can live with that, no problem. I'd love Ray to be back on the line in Game 5 and I'd love [Rajon] Rondo to get back to the basket like he did.
"I was upset at how we got there. That's what I told them. Through all that -- 28 points off  turnovers, [the Heat] shooting 56 percent from 3[-point range], us going 16-for-27 at the free throw line -- through all of that we still had a chance to win the darn game. But we have to be better, no doubt about that."
From the outset, the Celtics looked like the team in a 3-0 series deficit. In the first quarter, Boston committed nine turnovers in less than nine minutes, leading to 16 points (Miami, by comparison, committed three turnovers for zero points in that time).
Those giveaways let Miami embark on an early 12-0 run, but after Boston rallied to within a basket later in the first quarter, the Heat posted a 14-0 burst to build a 31-14 advantage.
"When we look back, we were very unselfish, but we were trying to make the extra pass too many times and not looking at the basket," Allen said. Six of Boston's nine first-quarter turnovers came off bad passes. "We were not trying to attack the basket and we became predictable. They were able to get in the passing lane and steal the ball."
Added Rivers: "We have to get off to better starts. We took our eyes off the process at the start of the game. I felt like we came into the game thinking, let's throw some haymakers at them with quick shots and 3s and bad shots. There was no ball movement. We were thinking about ending the series instead of thinking about playing basketball first and the result after. We took our eyes off the process."
Boston spent the next 21 minutes trying to fight back and not only tied the game (Allen's 3-pointer with 4:02 to play in the third knotted it at 62), but surged ahead, carrying a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.
But then Wade took over, scoring 14 points as part of a 19-3 run that took little more than five minutes to complete. Suddenly the Heat were back on top by double digits at 90-80 with 6:58 to go.
Boston still had a chance after Allen's first free throw with 2:35 left made it a four-point game. But that was when things fell apart.
Allen missed his second free throw, keeping it a two-possession game. After forcing a Wade turnover, Rondo waltzed in alone on the right baseline and somehow missed a bunny off the glass with 2:17 to go. After forcing another turnover, Allen, a tick below 90 percent from the line for his career, ended up back at the charity stripe and unfathomably missed two more.
After a Michael Beasley make, Garnett added to Boston's slap-your-head moments by missing two more free throws. The Celtics didn't generate a single field goal over the final three minutes.
"We're human," Rondo said. "It's happened before. This probably won't be the first or last time. It's part of the game, though. We definitely want to make free throws down the stretch, but it happens. The last game we made them and closed out the game. Today we didn't."
Allen, who had made 37 straight free throws before missing two in Game 3, suggested he simply caught a bad part of the rim on his first miss Sunday and his rhythm got thrown off from there. He admitted he couldn't remember the last time he missed three free throws in a game -- let alone in a row -- but deadpanned, "It's just unlucky. I'll get back in [the gym] and a shoot a couple hundred more.
"It's part of the game," Allen said. "The ball goes in, the ball goes out. Obviously we want it to go in. Sometimes there's no explanation for it. Getting the ball up, there's always the chance for it to go in. That's what we work on. That's why when you get easy layups, it makes everything a little easier."
The Celtics weren't hanging their heads. They said it simply meant going back to Boston with hopes of closing out the series Tuesday. But they know they have to play better.
"We know that the close-out game is always the hardest game," said captain Paul Pierce. "You have to expect a team to come out as hard as [the Heat] did. I thought we were hesitant at the beginning. We turned the ball over and that really put us in a hole.
"In a series, you have your emotional highs and lows. The key is how you bounce back. You can't get too low. We all got into the locker room and we all kept our heads up and said we let this one slip away. We knew we had our opportunities. We can't get into a first-quarter hole like that. We can't let Dwyane Wade come down here and shoot 3s and do what he wants.
"A team like us is going to bounce back."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.