MIAMI – What we had here Sunday afternoon was the perfect storm of a superstar playing on a level above even his lofty standards, complimented by a supporting cast that actually complimented him and an opponent who inexplicably missed layups and free throws in the final minutes.
Time will tell if Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat did anything more than stave off the embarrassment of a sweep on their home floor, but for the Celtics, it was the one that got away.
It took all those elements, combined with a beyond dreadful opening quarter, but the Heat finally got over their mental hurdle and beat the Celtics 101-92 in Game 4 of their playoff series.
One can argue that the Celtics did what they were supposed to do in coming down here and getting a game from the Heat. They can close things out back on their home floor in Game 5 on Tuesday night. Doc Rivers, for one, wasn’t having it.
“No,” he said. “Winning one game is great, but we wanted both. You have to be greedy.”
The Celtics would do well to put this series away back home because Wade has arguably been the best player in the playoffs. Kevin Durant is coming of age in Oklahoma City and LeBron is LeBron, but Wade is the single solitary reason the Heat are not yet preparing for their massive summer overhaul.
“You really have to fight it,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra who channeled some vintage Pat Riley psycho babble. “I challenged everybody to reveal their character. Reveal what they’re made of, not only to themselves, but to each other and to this organization. For 24 hours, reveal yourself and then let’s continue to reveal ourselves. As frustrating as this has been, let’s find a way to get this win.”
The Heat got their win. Now the Celtics have to win their series.
With that, here’s our three things.
LET’S TAKE A MOMENT TO APPRECIATE D-WADE
Wade is a lot of things, but a 3-point specialist is not one of them. He made only 30 percent of his 3’s this season, which is Rasheed Wallace territory, but in Game 4 he couldn’t miss. Wade erased a six-point fourth quarter deficit with a barrage of 3’s, four of them to be exact, but it started with an 18-foot jumper.
“I hit the little curl jumper and I said. ‘OK there we go,’” Wade said. “Then I knew I was shooting the last couple of times I touched the ball. I’m a rhythm player and once I get in a rhythm I think I can make any shot.”
Then he hit a 3. And another one. And one more before Rivers called a timeout. It was then that he went all KG on his hands.
“We were just having a little conversation,” Wade said. “We can’t bleep out what I was saying to [my hands]. We were having an, ‘Oooh you’re hot,’ conversation.”
Insert your favorite expletive if you want to recreate the conversation for yourself. The odd thing was, he was doing basically what the Celtics wanted him to do.
“On a normal day those are shots that you want Wade to take,” Paul Pierce said. “We all know how good Wade is when he gets to the basket, it just wasn’t a normal day. That’s why we want to get the ball out of his hands and make the other guys beat us.”
Rivers noted that he wanted his players to get into Wade’s body more and make those shots uncomfortable, but really this was about one player doing things far beyond his normal capabilities.
“Give him credit,” Rivers said. “Wade was phenomenal. Clearly after this game he moves into first place as the best players to ever come out of Marquette. There’s no doubt about that. He was fantastic, he made shots and he had to make them, but he made them. He’s hurt us this entire series and we just have to do a better job. I think Wade has figured he has to make them all over the floor and that’s what he’s doing.”
That’s basically it in a nutshell. Once again the Heat received strong contributions from their reserves – Dorrell Wright, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony – and those four have been a key part of their late-season success. But those four are not winning games on their own, and the Heat aren’t winning games without Wade playing out of his head.
“We don’t take Dwayne for granted, that greatness,” Spoelstra said. “We don’t. He has another gear and another depth to go into in his soul. To be able to dig it out and really carry a team on his back with his will. You believe. We saw this in Games 3, 4 and 5 in the  Finals. He has that ability. When his back is against the wall, it’s a defiance.”
Wade set a career post-season high with 46 points. He set a franchise record with 30 points in the second half and he scored 17 of Miami’s first 22 points in the fourth quarter. It was a marvelous virtuoso performance, and it was still almost in vain.
THE CELTICS GOT AHEAD OF THEMSELVES
We tend to focus on the last few minutes of games and the Celtics had much to wring their hands over after missing five free throws, open 3’s and what should have been a gimme for Rajon Rondo.
But all things considered, the Celtics got what they wanted down the stretch. Rondo, who was the best player on the floor not named Wade, had a wide-open look at the basket. Kevin Garnett missed two free throws and Ray Allen, of all people, missed three of four. It was the first time Allen has missed that many in a Celtics uniform, and the first time he’s missed that many at all since Dec. 26, 2006, when he somehow went 4-for-8 against the Hornets.
“I can’t argue with anything for us that happened offensively,” Rivers said. “I’ll take all those shots. I told our guys, that’s the human part of the game. I can live with that. I would love Ray to be back on the line in Game 5. I’d like Rondo to get back to the basket, like he did. I was just upset with how it got there.”
How it got there was an uphill climb from a disastrous first quarter in which the Celtics turned it over nine times and allowed the likes of Quentin Richardson to score 13 points. Wade wasn’t half bad either, throwing down a vicious dunk.
“That reverse dunk, I have no idea where that came from,” Wade said. “I haven’t done that since high school.”
That was fitting because the Celtics played like a high school team. “We shouldn’t have been in that situation from the jump,” Rondo said. “They got off to a great start.”
It wasn’t like Miami was pressuring the ball either. The Heat were sitting back in a 2-3 zone and just reading the passing lanes and reacting quicker.
“We looked like we were very unselfish,” Allen said. “We were trying to make the extra pass. Too many times if you’re not looking at the basket, trying to attack the basket, you can be somewhat predictable offensively so that they were able to get in the passing lanes.”
That was what Rivers and the players were upset about after the game.
“We have to be better in Game 5,” Rivers said. “We have to get off to better starts. We took our eyes off of the process to start the game and I told our guys that. I felt like we came into the game thinking let’s throw some haymakers at them with quick 3’s and bad shots and no ball movement. We were thinking ending the series instead of playing basketball first and then the results happen.”
Let Wade’s fourth quarter stand for all eternity, but the Celtics will be kicking themselves about the opening stanza.
Understand this about the Heat. This was a very important game. It was necessary for their pride, for their organization, and for Wade and their efforts to retain him in the offseason. But that’s all this was: one game.
Miami had a mental block when it comes to the Celtics. All they’ve talked about for the last 24 hours was that five times this season they have had a lead in the fourth quarter against the Celtics, and five times they have lost.
“That test with the Boston Celtics for some reason, with us and that team, that test comes every fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said. “At some point we will be measured mentally. We’ve talked about it every single game in this series. How do we master this last hurdle, where we get measured mentally and they forced us to crack at some point, particularly in the fourth quarter, that we can over that and find a way, just for a day. Find a way to get that win and we did.”
The expectation around here was that they were going to lay down and die and then they would move on to their true goal this season, which is building a team around Wade with all that cap space.
So they salvaged something, but the series is still firmly within Boston’s grasp.
“Close out games are the hardest thing,” Garnett said. “They played well. They did what they were supposed to do. They defended home court and they took it back to Boston.”
It goes without saying that the Celtics don’t want to come back to South Beach, unless it’s for a vacation. In Chicago, the Cavaliers took care of the Bulls in Game 4 and they are now are looking at closing that series out at home on Tuesday, as well.
If the Celtics can win Game 5, they will get a nice little break before going into Cleveland. If not, all that good will they have accumulated over the last week, not to mention that much-needed rest, will be gone.
Game 5 isn’t a must-win, of course, but it is a crucial game if they are going to make an impact on the rest of the playoffs.