MIAMII — Even when they were whole, the Boston Celtics had their hands full in dealing with the Miami Heat and their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Take Paul Pierce out of the equation, and Kevin Garnett? The challenge becomes greater and on Friday it proved to be too much for the C's as the Heat pulled away for a 109-101 win.
Boston spent most of the second half behind by double digits, but a 3-point play by Brandon Bass with 3:46 to play cut Miami's lead to single digits, 99-90.
But former Celtic Ray Allen was fouled while driving to the basket. And Jason Terry, who had been struggling all game, was whistled for a technical foul by official Mark Lindsay.
Allen made all three free throws and the Heat's control of the game was never an issue.
James played just 29 minutes but still scored 20 points along with 6 rebounds and 9 assists.
Miami has proven it can beat teams in a variety of ways. On Friday, the Heat relied on an old friend - the 3-point shot - which has been huge in all three of its victories over Boston this season.
In the Celtics' lone regular-season win (100-98 on Jan. 25) over Miami, the Heat shot just 5-for-23 on 3s. On Friday, it connected on five in the second quarter alone.
This was a game that coming in, had little to offer in terms of drama or sizzle. It was the first game since March 29 for the Heat's Big Three, but beyond that the game offered little for either team. Miami has already clinched the best record in the NBA and home court throughout the playoffs, so the game meant zilch to their playoff position. And the C's (now 40-39 after the loss) were a near-lock to wind up as the No. 7 seed before the game, and now even more so since eighth-seeded Milwaukee lost to the Atlanta Hawks.
Doc Rivers said he had a possible "surprise" to the starting lineup. But it turned out to be Jordan Crawford in and Chris Wilcox to the bench, which was about as anti-climatic as Friday's outcome.
Both teams seemed in end-of-the-season mode at the start of the game with some fairly sloppy play, but it worked for the Celtics, who led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter.
But the Heat got back into the game behind a series of 3-pointers from former Celtic Ray Allen and fellow Miami reserve Norris Cole.
Miami didn't take its first lead until a 3-pointer by Cole put the Heat ahead, 41-40.
Nole's 3-pointer was part of a blistering 16-for-19 shooting display by the Heat in the second quarter, which propelled it to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Miami continued to pull away in the third quarter behind another hot-shooting quarter (10-for-17) that pushed the Heat's lead to 87-75 going into the fourth.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Heat was poised to get everything it wanted to on Friday night - a few minutes for the Big Three, more experience for the bench and most important, another victory to pad its already thick win total.
Meanwhile, the Celtics continue to close out the season playing inconsistent and at times, erratic basketball.
The losses aren't as disturbing as the defensive breakdowns that, even with Garnett in place, seem to becoming more and more problematic.
And the role players off the Celtics bench remind all of us why they are role players and not starters.