It’s rare to see two super stars foul out of the same game, but that’s what happened Sunday night when both Paul Pierce and LeBron James were disqualified in the Celtics 93-91 overtime victory.
Rajon Rondo paced Boston’s offense by scoring 15 points and dishing out 15 assists, while Kevin Garnett scored 17 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and blocked 5 shots. The Celtics jumped out to an early 18-point lead behind big shots from Keyon Dooling (3 3-pointers) and Paul Pierce, but the Heat showed up for the second half, making a huge dent in the lead by the end of the third quarter. By the time the game was in its waning moments, Miami was locked in a battle that would eventually be unwinable.
The Heat actually had an opportunity to win the game in regulation, thanks to LeBron James’ game-tying 3-pointer with 37 seconds to go. James received the ball a few feet behind the three point line with around 7 seconds to go as Mickael Pietrus defended him. Garnett, who was the second line of defense, stood a few feet behind Pietrus, ensuring a trap to the left or a funnel into a Celtics-filled lane to the right. Udonis Haslem ran cross court to occupy where Garnett should have been on the left if he wasn’t helping on LeBron in an attempt to balance the court. James drove right, and Garnett rotated with Pietrus, trapping him at the right elbow. Mario Chalmers ran behind LeBron as a relief plan for a dump off shot, but in turn only brought his defender (Dooling) with him, triple teaming James, a defender on all sides. James fired an overhead crosscourt pass to Haslem who missed a fadeaway at the buzzer. There, in a nutshell, is the play that will be scrutinized for the next two days. James didn’t really have much of a choice considering where he caught the ball and how much time was remaining, and Boston’s defense was stellar in that situation as well.
James and Pierce both accumulated several fouls throughout the 4th quarter, most of which were questionable calls both ways. At least there aren’t any conspiracy theories out there tonight: the refs were awful on both sides, making bad call after bad call, some of which were wrong in their nature. Granted, in the heat of the moment, it must be difficult to spot a difference in inches, which can often make or break a team. It broke LeBron James, whose 4th foul was a charging call. Pierce, who drew the charge, had one foot over the restricted area, meaning, by the NBA rulebook, it’s a blocking foul. Considering the angle of his heel, it’s easy to see how it was missed, but the call itself was wrong. Pierce was also subject to weak officiating, especially on his sixth foul in which Battier flailed his arms and collapsed in what was likely a flop as Pierce was trying to break through some tough defense. With both James and Pierce on the bench, the Celtics had a marked advantage, and Rondo made sure the executed it.
With the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead with under 2 minutes to go in overtime, Pietrus pulled down 2 consecutive offensive rebounds that allowed Boston to hold the ball for almost an entire minute. While they didn’t score on any of their three attempts, the relentless late effort on the boards helped stymie any momentum the Heat had, as well as cut down on any potential lead-changing opportunities.
After a missed Shane Battier three and a Rondo split on free throws, the Celtics held onto a 2-point lead with a little over 20 seconds to go. In a play that seemed to have a Mario Chalmers three as the first option (which was open), Dwyane Wade elected to wait for the rest of the play to develop, which turned out to backfire as everything collapsed. He dribbled to the top of the key, caught Marquis Daniels with a pump-fake, and then just missed a straight on 3-pointer that would have won Miami the game. Wade was 0-3 in the final 10 minutes of the game with 1 turnover.
It was Rondo who put the nail in the coffin on Sunday night, though. His teardrop with 2 and a half minutes to go gave the Celtics the lead they’d never relinquish. He had 10 first half assists (5 in the second half), and helped set the tone early. He also set the tone for finishing as he seemed to be the sole source of Boston offense in overtime.
The Celtics tied the series up at 2 and will go back to Miami in hopes of taking control of the series. Clearly, LeBron and Miami will be looking to rebound from the difficult loss.