MIAMI — There was still time.
NBA rules dictate that 0.3 seconds is needed for a player to be able to catch and shoot the ball — and the clock at AmericanAirlines Arena read 0.6.
With the Celtics trailing by 2, coach Brad Stevens called a timeout and drew up a play for one final shot, and it was designed for Jeff Green because Stevens felt the 6-foot-9-inch Green was tall enough to get the shot off from anywhere.
In the huddle, Avery Bradley turned to Green.
“Are you ready?” Bradley asked.
Green didn’t say a word. He just looked at Bradley.
“Obviously, he was ready,” said Bradley, who scored 17 points.
Gerald Wallace was set to inbound the ball from the left sideline, next to the Heat bench.
The veteran swingman and Green had spoken just before, and the plan was for Green to roll off a pick and run deep to the right corner, one of his favorite spots.
Green said the original play drawn up was actually for a 2-point shot, which, if he made it, would have sent the game to overtime.
“But I told Gerald I wanted to shoot the 3 to try to win it,” Green said.
Wallace kept his eyes on 6-11 Chris Bosh, who was nearby.
With Bosh’s height and wingspan, the pass across the floor would have to fit through a tight window, and Green would have to catch it and then launch a shot, likely with a defender draped all over on him.
That defender would be 6-8 LeBron James, too.
Green started near the high post with James guarding him. And after Celtics guard Jordan Crawford rolled off a pick and toward the top of the key, Green sprinted to the corner.
James was a step behind. He had paused when he saw Crawford and then had taken his eyes off Green. Then Celtics rookie forward Kelly Olynyk moved to screen James, freeing Green up just a bit more.
Wallace’s pass was on target, thrown just over the out-stretched hands of Bosh. Olynyk had been tangled up with Bosh just long enough to create a window.
Green caught the ball, but James had made up ground by then. And when Green fired the fadeaway 3-pointer from deep in the right corner, James was in his face.
“We covered it as well as we could.”
Green kept fading after he let the shot go and watched its trajectory from the front row the stands, where he had fallen into a woman’s lap who was sitting courtside.
“I had that play written down, but I have never run it before,” Stevens said. “I have run some variations of it but by then, you are free-styling it a little bit because you don’t know who will be in the game.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, Wallace balled his right hand into a fist and held it high when the shot went up, believing the shot’s aim was true.
And then it rattled home, barely beating the buzzer. There was no time left now.
Wallace started pumping that right hand that he had balled into a fist and he sprinted toward the center of the court, where other Celtics were celebrating.
Green, still in that woman’s lap, threw both his arms up, then ran to join his teammates. The Heat looked stunned, along with their fans, who quickly left.
The officials had to review the shot, but they declared it good, giving the Celtics a 111-110 win against the two-time defending NBA champions.
It marked the third win in a row for the rebuilding Celtics, now 3-4, and it was no doubt improbable, considering their opponent, a bitter rival who fell to 4-3.
“It’s one win,” said Stevens, who remained ever calm when the shot went up and then went in, as he did many times during heart-stopping buzzer beaters at Butler.
“I hate to say it like that, but it’s one win.”
But it does give the Celtics confidence.
“I think now, we’re starting to expect to win games,” said Crawford, who scored 15. “We’re not going in and competing just to play a good game and lose. We’re going in there to win.”
James finished with 25 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds.
“They outplayed us,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “They outcompeted us.”
Green scored 24. He hit 5 of 8 from 3-point range and continued tormenting the Heat, a team that he scored a career-high 43 points against last season.
When asked if there’s something about his performances against Miami, Green said, “Well, they are the best team. You know, back-to-back championships. You’ve got to get up playing against these guys. One of the best players in the game. one of the top five players in the game. It’s only right.”
The game was tight all the way through, with the Celtics holding a 1-point lead at halftime and then fighting back after trailing by 4 with 3.6 seconds left after James made a free throw.
Wallace made a quick layup with one second left to make the score 110-108, Miami. The Celtics then fouled Dwyane Wade, who missed the first of his two free throws.
Wade, who scored 18 points, tried to intentionally miss the second free throw by hitting it off the rim, thereby starting the clock and potentially running the last 0.6 seconds off it.
But when Wade threw the ball at toward the goal, the shot missed the rim altogether. It was a violation, and the Celtics received the ball with no time having run off the clock.
“I was trying to hit the rim but it didn’t go as planned,” Wade said.
Said Wallace: “It seemed like everything went right for us in the last minute of the game. I seemed like, this was our time.”
But, according to Green, his improbable and nearly impossible game-winner wasn’t his best ever. It only ranked No. 2.
The top spot belonged to a winning layup at the buzzer that Green had last season in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.
That shot was more special, Green said, because he made it in front of the heart surgeon who performed open-heart surgery on him in that city a year earlier.
“That will always be No. 1,” Green said, “but this is up there.”
And, more than anything, it showed Green’s heart, and the heart of the Celtics.