The Miami Heat had several chances at home in a crucial Game 5 to take control of this series but ultimately the Boston Celtics outplayed them down the stretch to earn the 94-90 decision and a chance to close the series in Boston and advance to the NBA Finals.
Now the Heat face the same fate as the San Antonio Spurs, who were also seemingly in control of their conference finals series with a 2-0 advantage against the Oklahoma City Thunder and home court advantage protected.
Chris Bosh's return from injury after missing three weeks was, by and large, successful after all that time off with 9 points and 7 rebounds but was limited to just 14 minutes and struggled to contain Kevin Garnett and other times was caught off guard on defensive rotations. He was curiously held out of the closing minutes of the game in favor of Udonis Haslem. LeBron James led the Heat with 30 points but went several minutes without scoring in the final quarter and had just 2 assists to go along with 13 rebounds in 45 minutes.
Dwyane Wade was aggressive throughout the game for 27 points but Mario Chalmers was the only other Heat player to score at least 9 points and was outplayed by Rajon Rondo, who himself struggled and couldn't top his previous performances during this three-game winning streak in the series. Chalmers' uneven play gave way to increased minutes for rookie Norris Cole.
Without a veteran point guard to backup Chalmers and assist Wade and LeBron with some playmaking, the Heat offense went cold through several minutes to close out the second, third and fourth quarters and in the process badly destroying any momentum and hopes of a fluid stretch of offense to build up a strong lead that could have also fired up the home crowd. But time and time again it was the Celtics defense that came through on multiple stops, as well as employing an effective zone defense that forced the Heat into a jump shooting team instead of the slashing, dynamic offense they had when they overcame the Pacers.
They shot 39% from the field and missed 50 shots out of 82 attempts. In yet another close game, the Heat again were uneven from the free throw line, this time missing 6 of them. The Celtics offense wasn't that much better either as they shot just 40.7% but they answered every Heat run in each quarter of the game.
The Heat had raced out to the lead at the start of the game behind aggressive moves by both LeBron and Wade but that didn't stop the Boston Celtics from keeping pace with them and avoiding digging themselves into a big hole. The Heat held on to an 8-point lead by the end of the first quarter and managed to increase it to 13 points in the following quarter before missing 15 of their last 17 field goal attempts to close out the first half.
The Heat fought back and went on a 11-2 run after the score was tied at 88-88 but the Celtics once again fought back with a 15-1 run of their own. When the Heat went ahead again the final quarter, the Celtics responded for the last time with a 22-12 to finish the game.
Now the Heat must win on the road in Boston for a chance at a Game 7 back home or this season will end as ugly as it did last season. With all the pressure on their shoulders, they must win two straight to get to the NBA Finals in what was once thought to be an easy road to the championship round after the season-ending injury to Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose and the struggles of the Celtics against the Philadelphia Sixers.
It's not over by a long shot but the Heat must count on the Big 3 individually to have brilliant games and for the supporting players to step up to give them badly needed support. Their defense still hasn't been able to contain Garnett in the paint and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen don't look as hobbled as they did to start the series.
With each loss, the more pressure is placed on the team from all angles. Thursday night now represents a chance to redeem themselves in order to earn the opportunity to fight another day and make it to the Finals.