When all is said and done at the end of this series, the defining characteristic won't be Rajon Rondo's 44 points in Game 2, or LeBron James' missed jumper at the end of regulation, or Ray Allen's wide-open three-pointer with a minute left.
Instead, the defining moment is more likely to be when Paul Pierce fouled out with 47 seconds left.
When Pierce was forced to the bench, Celtics fans immediately understood that if this 98-96 game in Miami's favor went to overtime, the C's would be toast, and they were right. Coming into this series, it was clear that the Big 4—all four—would have to be at their absolute best in order to contend with the Heat. There was an outside chance that spectacular flashes of Brandon Bass—like the 27-point flash of dominance he showed against Philadelphia in Game 6 of the semifinals—could keep the C's in the hunt.
But Game 2 was one of those games when Pierce, Rondo, Allen and Kevin Garnett hauled the offensive load, and without all four of them in overtime, there was absolutely nothing Boston could to do avoid getting steamrolled.
When Dwyane Wade pulled up for a jumper with 47 seconds left in the game, Pierce left his feet and fouled him, and when the ref blew the whistle, Pierce looked on incredulously. Contrary to the Game 1 trend, though, this was a fair foul, and it was Pierce's last to give.
Pierce watched from the bench as Wade gave Boston a huge boon when he missed the first of two free throws, and then he watched as Allen hit his most important three-pointer of the year to tie the game at 99. Then overtime came, a Celtics bench with a combined seven points and five rebounds was charged with keeping this team in the game and Rondo was the only player who could manage to score.
No team is ever going to make the NBA finals when it expects one player to single-handedly outscore the other in overtime.
Against a shorthanded team like Atlanta or an overachiever like Philly, the Celtics could get away with winning, even when they didn't play their best. That isn't going to fly against James' and Wade's Heat. This team is far too deep and far too talented, and it will make the Celtics pay for their mistakes, unlike their previous two opponents.
In the end, Rondo's 44 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and three steals didn't matter because the Heat were better. LeBron had a double-double, Wade shot 50 percent from the floor and four players finished in double figures, even one of whom wasn't in the starting lineup. Now there's a concept.
Moreover, a Heat team that seemed to be in shambles just over one week ago has suddenly won five straight games, and it didn't even matter that LeBron choked with the final shot in regulation because Wade tallied his 12th straight 20-point playoff performance against Boston.
If Pierce hadn't fouled out—if the Celtics had managed to salvage Game 2, whether in regulation or overtime—the Celtics would have taken away Miami's home-court advantage and they'd be heading back to Boston with a 1-1 series tie instead of a 2-0 deficit. Mentally, they would have proven that the Big 4 can beat the Heat, on the road, even when no one else on the roster shows up to play. And they were excruciatingly close to accomplishing this.
Instead, they proved what most suspected all along: They aren't deep enough to beat the Heat, and they certainly aren't deep enough when their most clutch player fouls out in the final minute of a tight playoff game.