NBA Playoffs: Boston Celtics Throw Away Chance To Sweep Miami Heat

Stew Winkel@stew_winkelSenior Analyst IApril 25, 2010

It was a great performance by the Boston Celtics in Sunday's Game Four against the Heat, a game where the Celtics had the opportunity to close out the series and earn the franchise's first four-game sweep since a 4-0 sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1986 Eastern Conference finals.

That statement, however, comes with a major disclaimer - it does not include the first 17 minutes of the game or the final three minutes.  Otherwise, Boston outscored Miami 50-24.  

Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Heat outplayed the Celtics in every way possible during those two spans and it was enough to allow Miami to win the game 101-92 and live to play another day.  With the win, Miami forced a Game Five to be played Tuesday night in Boston.

Knowing Miami would come out of the gates with energy and throw everything they had at the Celtics, Boston decided it would be better not to show up.  In the game's first 17 minutes, the Celtics turned the ball over 11 times, mostly of the unforced careless variety, and trailed Miami 43-25 with seven minutes left in the second quarter. 

Even Quentin Richardson decided he would give, for him, his best effort early in the game, sparking the Heat with three three-pointers in the first quarter.  Dwayne Wade, who we will talk more about in a moment, had 14 in the first quarter. 

But, Boston dug itself out of that 18-point hole and actually had a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Here, I will give credit to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra - seeing the game starting to slip away, with Boston finishing the third quarter on a 22-9 run, he decided against sitting Wade to begin the fourth as he normally does.  

Wade would then reward his coach's decision.  The word "dominate" is not strong enough to describe how Wade played in the fourth quarter.

He personally outscored the Celtics in the game's final 12 minutes, 19 to 15.  Of those 19 points, Wade knocked down four three-pointers. He scored his team's first nine points of the quarter and hit a three to reclaim the lead for Miami 79-78, a lead the Heat would grow to 11 at 93-82.  

When he knocked down a free throw at the 5:17 mark to extend Miami's lead to 94-85, he had scored 21 of his team's last 27 points. He finished the game with a personal playoff-best of 46 points.

But even with Wade channeling memories of Micheal Jordan's record setting 63 points in a playoff game (and had this game gone double overtime, I am certain Wade would have made a run at 63), the Celtics still had plenty of chances to win the game and end the series.

Trailing by 11 with less than six minutes to play, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and Michael Finley each hit three-pointers to bring Boston within five, 96-91 with three minutes to play.

From then on, though, Boston would simply self-destruct.

Allen went to the free throw line with a chance to cut into the lead even more. He knocked down the first free throw, but then the career 90-percent free throw shooter, missed the second one.  The Heat lead stayed at four, 96-92.

Rondo then missed a lay-up, but the Celtics got the ball back and Allen would again go to the line.

Inconceivably, he missed them both.

Between Rondo's missed layup and Allen's three missed free throws, the Celtics easily could have had the lead, but instead trailed by four. 

Michael Beasley then had one of those rare moments in a game where he decided to hustle.  He played the role of Lorenzo Charles to Dorell Wright's Derreck Whittenburg, as he put in Wright's air ball, pushing the Miami lead to 98-92 with 1:30 left. 

Boston would again shoot themselves in the foot.  Finley missed a wide open three, and then Kevin Garnett, who had played his best game of the series with 18 points and 12 rebounds, missed two free throws.

For those keeping track, that is five consecutive free throw misses in the game's final three minutes by the Celtics.  Through three quarters, the Celtics were 14-19 from the line, but were a miserable 2-8 in the fourth quarter. 

Wade and Richardson would make free throws to seal the win and send the series back to Boston.

What now?

Well, typically when a player of Wade's caliber has a game like he did today, you might just tip you cap but also shrug it off.   Wade is going to have his moments and you could argue it took Wade's Jordan-esque performance for the Heat to win.

No way he can do that three more times, let alone three straight times.

The only problem with that thinking is that while Sunday was Wade's best game of the series, the Celtics have been unable to stop Wade in any of the seven meetings between the two teams this year.

Wade's scoring has gone up in every game of the playoff series, where he is averaging 33.5 points on 60-percent field goal shooting. Yes, that is correct - 60-percent shooting from a guard.  For the season against Boston, Wade is averaging 33.5 points on 56-percent shooting.

In fact of Wade's four forty-point games this season, two have come against the Celtics.  

Then, there are the Celtics themselves.  There were doubts too many to list about this team entering the playoffs.  They have shown a different level of intensity thus far in the playoffs, and they are still leading the series 3-1, but I can't shake the feeling that if any NBA team can blow a 3-0 lead, it may be the 2009-10 Celtics.

Prove me wrong Celtics, and end this on Tuesday night.  


I have just one note after today's game, and it is more a question than a note: How can the Heat continue to play Jermaine O'Neal and along similar lines, how can the Celtics continue to play Rasheed Wallace?  Is there some contest between Doc Rivers and Spoelstra to see which team's big man can be less effective?

O'Neal has been legendarily bad this playoff series, shooting just 17.6 percent from the floor, but starts every game even though the Heat are clearly a better team with Udonis Haslem or Joel Anthony on the floor. 

Wallace meanwhile continues to amaze with his complete lack of ability to do anything positive on the court.  After a disappointing regular season, Wallace has actually been worse in the playoffs.

In Game Two, where the Celtics won by 29 points, Wallace was somehow a minus-12 in terms of plus/minus.  Today, in Game Four, Wallace, in only 11 minutes, managed to be a minus-20.  Minus-20.  

Plus/minus is not the best measuring stick in basketball, but the plus/minus is only the tip of the iceberg in beginning to explain just how bad Wallace has been in the post-season.

Doc, get him out of the game because at some point, I have to assume Spoelstra will stop playing his abomination in O'Neal.



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