MIAMI – This wasn’t exactly a pretty win for the Miami Heat, though the result was all that mattered. The execution wasn’t the pure magic that that team can be. It was, instead, survival, getting past the mediocre play early, overcoming all the missed free throws, and taking care of the all-important home court advantage.
But it surely wasn’t easy. And that was, at times, as much the fault of the Heat as it was the Celtics.
“There just can’t be any other way with this team, and it has to be the hard way,’’ said coach Erik Spoelstra. “One of the biggest keys we said coming into this series was to embrace the difficult, because it will be difficult.
“Tonight was tough. It was ugly at times. We couldn’t get into a great rhythm, particularly in the first half.’’
The Heat, in fact, probably should have won Wednesday night’s Game 2 in regulation. Miami got the ball back with 34.3 seconds to go in a tie game. After LeBron James missed a layup and the Heat got the rebound, he held the ball, running down the clock to prevent any chance of the Celtics getting the ball and going the other way.
And then, instead of going to the hoop, James pulled up for a jumper. He missed, and the teams were headed to overtime, a period that Miami seemed to merely get through, winning 115-111, rather than dominate, even with the Celtics fouling out left and right.
“He made winning plays down the stretch guarding a guy who had an incredible night [in Rajon Rondo],’’ Spoelstra said. “That’s what it’s about. It’s not always going to be about the shot. It’s about finding a different way to win, especially against a team like this.’’
That was what it was like for both James and his team, in a game that was about, as James said, doing whatever it took.
The most glaring error from the Heat was one the Celtics had seen in their series against the Sixers - missed free throws, especially key ones down the stretch. Miami missed an astounding 16 foul shots, going 31 for 47 from the line for 66 percent.
James missed six of his 24 attempts. Dwyane Wade missed four of his 11. Mario Chalmers missed four of his seven. It was not a good night from the line, and that made the game close.
“It was a grind-out win for us,’’ said James Jones, who chipped in 3 points off the bench. “The opportunity that we had tonight we relish, we took on a veteran team, a championship-caliber team, who gave us everything that we could handle. And we found a way despite our lapses and our missed free throws to come out with a tough, gritty win. But, really, we just protected our home court. That’s what we have to do.’’
That’s what they did, if barely.
With assists from a couple of the team’s role players – Chalmers and Udonis Haslem - the Heat had just enough to pull past efforts from Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Haslem gave them a double-double, adding 11 rebounds to his 13 points.
There were assists too, from beyond the arc, with the Heat making 10 of 26 3-pointers, three each from Chalmers and Shane Battier. Those threes kept them afloat early, and allowed them be where they were late. Up just enough, up four points as the final buzzer sounded.
So it might have been that the Heat were left with some relief after Game 2, after pulling a win out of what could have been a series-altering loss. Because splitting with the Celtics at home would have put the Heat in a very different position than going to Boston up, 2-0.
“If we lose this game, this series becomes a lot tougher,’’ said Wade. “But all we did was win two games at home.’’
And now it’s time to move on, to leave Miami.
“I know we feel good about tonight’s win, the way we fought back,’’ Chalmers said. “We can’t get comfortable.’’