By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON There was man-to-man, zone, double-teaming, tilting . . . you name the defense, and there was a very good chance the Boston Celtics implored it at some point againt the Miami Heat.
At times, it was a masterpiece.
Other times, it looked sloppy and disjointed.
But it achieved the only thing the Celtics were looking for against the Heat - a victory.
The C's, about as short-handed as we've seen them this season, put together a strong third quarter of play that propelled them to an 85-82 win.
It got close at the end. Miami trailed 83-81 when LeBron James was fouled with 12.5 seconds to play.
James, a 76.4 percent free-throw shooter this season, missed the first one as the Garden faithful jeered him with no mercy as the shot rimmed in and out of the basket.
He made the second free throw that cut the C's lead in half.
Moments later, Glen Davis was at the free throw line with 6.3 seconds remaining.
A 75 percent free throw shooter, Davis calmly sank both free throws.
Following a Heat time-out, Miami 3-pointer specialist Mike Miller had a great look that hit the back of the rim before rolling out. Dwyane Wade's attempted tip-in was off as well as the Celtics somehow came away with the victory.
"To gut this out was great," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
As limited as the C's were, Rivers said they were close to having even fewer players available moments before tip-off.
Nate Robinson, who was questionable coming into the game with a bruised right knee, told Rivers about five minutes before tip-off that he wasn't going to play.
"And then came up later and said he wanted to give it a go," Rivers said.
Paul Pierce was another player whose status was in doubt, according to Rivers.
"Paul said before the game he felt awful," Rivers said.
It showed in his play.
Pierce scored just one point against the Heat, missing all 10 of his shots from the field. After the game, Pierce said he sprained his hand in practice on Saturday and was having foot issues as well, adding that he planned to have an MRI on his left foot Monday.
"And so, you know, we literally were thinking at one point, 'We're not going to have enough bodies to play this game,' " Rivers said.
As it turned out, the C's had more than enough bodies to get the job done against a Miami team that continues to come up short against the Celtics - even when the Celtics were about as short-handed as they have been all season.
"We're disappointed," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "We did not play to our potential. It could have swung either way, but we weren't able to get over that hump."
With the win, the Celtics (39-14) not only regained their spot atop the Eastern Conference standings, but they also locked up the season series with the Heat (39-15) by beating them for the third time in as many meetings this season.
Injuries limited Boston to suiting up just 10 players.
To a man, every one of them who saw action contributed in some fashion to the victory.
Kendrick Perkins, often the forgotten man in the Celtics starting five, had a season-high 15 points while logging 30-plus minutes for the fifth straight game.
Rajon Rondo tallied his third triple-double of the season, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Boston's bench came up with a slew of big plays, as Glen Davis (16 points) and Von Wafer (10) combined for 26 points which was more than enough to outscore Miami's second unit which totaled just eight points.
Now that the Celtics have won all three meetings, you have to wonder if the C's success is starting to get into the heads of the Heat players.
"It's a good win and if there's a mental message, I don't know what it would be," Rivers said. "They're pretty tough over there. So, I hope there is; I just don't think there is."
Miami's Dwyane Wade sees it as just another obstacle in the Heat's path toward becoming the championship-caliber team many expect them to be.
"This is classic, typical, bigger brothers, you got to get over it," Wade said. "I've been through it before; LeBron's been through it before with the Pistons. You look down the line, everyone has been through it, MJ went through it with the Pistons back in the day. You got to get over the hump, and we're getting close and close but we're not there yet, so we continue to learn from it."