MIAMI - There had been comfort in the fact that the Heat were returning home, that they were leaving TD Garden where they had played poorly for much of Game 3 and Game 4. They were returning to South Beach and American Airlines Arena, a place full of white T-shirts and a DJ riling up the crowd.
This is home, it was supposed to be friendly.
“We had an opportunity to come home and take a lead,’’ LeBron James said. “But we didn’t. Now we’ve got to go up to Boston and win a game.
“We have no other way out. It’s just to win and extend the series.’’
Or see their playoff run end.
The Heat threw away a chance to take control of the Eastern Conference finals, and are now the first team in this series to drop a home game. And it was a game in which the Celtics did not play well in the first half. But the Heat shot poorly and let their opponent back in the game.
More than that, though, Heat forward Shane Battier said the team made mental errors, plays that they should have done right. That’s in contrast to the Celtics, a team with extensive playoff - and championship - experience that rarely made mistakes in this game.
“We weren’t sharp, just weren’t sharp,’’ Battier said. “The effort wasn’t an issue. We just didn’t play intelligent, for long stretches of the game. Against one of the smartest teams in the NBA, that’s just a killer.’’
And he said it didn’t just happen in Game 5.
“I just think unintelligent play has been really our demise,’’ Battier said. “Just not being in the right spots, allowing relief baskets for a team that’s not known for the transition play. We’re giving them too many chances, and they’re taking advantage of them.’’
That, and the fact that the Heat were missing the performances they had come to expect - and need - from role players such as Battier and Mario Chalmers.
Other than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat got little offensively out of a supporting cast that had been bolstering the team in the wake of Chris Bosh’s abdominal injury. (They did get 14 rebounds from Udonis Haslem.)
Bosh returned. The support from the role players did not.
Outside of James (30 points, 11 for 25) and Wade (27 points, 10 for 22), the remaining Heat shot 11 for 35 for 31 percent from the field. The Heat as a whole hit just 7 of 26 3-point attempts.
“[The Celtics] made runs, every time we got them down they made runs,’’ James said. “They made us stagnant offensively and got stops.’’
There was also a lack of intensity, an intensity that was easily visible in the Celtics. The Heat didn’t make the clutch shots, didn’t have the ability to win it down to the stretch, couldn’t make it happen, even at home.
They were lax in moments and did not play with the smarts they needed. Part of it was the zone defense that Boston played, part of it was the man-defense that looked like zone. Part of it was simply themselves.
“I think for the most part we got away from what we do best, and that’s getting in transition and getting stops,’’ Chalmers said. “We got going and then we let up, then we got going again and then we let up. That’s something we can’t do. We’ve got to keep going the whole 48 minutes.’’
And now they head back to Boston for a do-or-die Game 6.
“It’s a loss and that’s all it is,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And that’s what our focus is right now, to fight any kind of noise from the outside or any human condition, and to collectively come together strong to prepare for the next game.
“And this is what the playoffs are all about. It tests your collective character and your resolve. And this is the journey that we have to be on right now for whatever reason.’’
In the fewer than 48 hours between Game 5 and Game 6, the Heat need to figure out how to beat the Celtics. They need to find additional effort, find ways around the poor plays. They need to play championship basketball, something they have yet to do in three straight Celtics wins.
“It’s about getting that one loose ball,’’ Battier said. “It’s about grabbing that one defensive rebound. We just seemed to be a play short. And in a game like this, that makes all the difference in the world.’’