The Boston Celtics, buoyed by a return to their home floor, jumped to a big lead and held on to beat Miami 101-91 on Friday and narrow the gap on the Heat in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Kevin Garnett scored 24 points with 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce added 23 and Rajon Rondo chipped in with 21, as the Celtics narrowed the gap in the best-of-seven series to 2-1 after dropping the first two games in Miami.
Rondo, whose career-high 44 points on Wednesday couldn’t prevent an overtime loss, also added 10 assists and six rebounds in another sparkling performance.
He scored eight points in the fourth quarter, helping beat back a Heat rally.
Miami had eaten into a 24-point final-period deficit and pulled within eight points with less than two minutes remaining when Ray Allen grabbed a Dwyane Wade miss and passed to Rondo, who took the ball the length of the court for a layup that stretched Boston’s lead to 99-89.
“He stabilized us, really,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who admitted he was concerned by his team’s defense as Miami mounted their late challenge.
“We couldn’t score and they scored every time,” Rivers said, adding that his players “were concerned about not scoring and I was more concerned about Miami scoring.
“I thought: ‘Guys, if we get stops we can beat them down the floor, but we have to get stops,’” he added.
NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James had 34 points, eight rebounds and five assists for Miami, who got 18 points from Wade.
Wade shot just 9-of-20 from the field and didn’t attempt a free throw as James received little help from his teammates.
James’ 16 first-quarter points were more than the 14 mustered by the Heat in the second period.
Mike Miller gave the Heat a boost with nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. Mario Chalmers silenced the Boston faithful with a three-point play that made it 95-87, but they couldn’t close the gap and Garnett drained a 20 foot jump shot in the final minute to seal the win.
“This is a championship team,” James said of Boston. “They have a lot of guys that won championship rings. They got a lot of pride. We know we’re not going to be able to just walk on top of them.”
“We’re not satisfied with just one win,” Rondo said. “They defended their home court and in a couple of days we’ll do the same.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Miami would immediately turn their attention to Game 4, and the chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
“All of our energy, all of our focus right now will be on Sunday,” he said. “We still have a golden opportunity.”