BOSTON — With twice as many losses as wins, the Boston Celtics are headed for the NBA draft lottery. However, when their long and difficult rebuilding season ends, they can at least look back on winning the season series against the reigning NBA champions.
The Celtics, taking advantage of LeBron James’ absence, rode guards Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley to a 101-96 victory over Heat on Wednesday night, capturing the season series between the teams, 2-1.
The Heat’s superstar forward sat out due to back spasms.
“We beat the two-time defending champions — they were missing a fairly good player, just to qualify that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after his team ended a five-game losing streak by overcoming a 14-point, first-half deficit.
Rondo hit two crucial floaters in the final 1:44, outjumped the taller Udonis Haslem for a key jump ball, dished out 15 assists, grabbed 10 rebounds and scored nine points. Bradley added 23 points and hit a career-high six 3-pointers in nine tries. Boston (23-46) shot 13-for-28 from behind the arc.
“We were 9-for-27 (from the floor overall) at the end of the first quarter and we were down 12, and then we hit 60 percent of our shots the rest of the way, and that’s why we won the game,” Stevens said.
Boston forward Brandon Bass scored 18 points and played tough defense in his best game in a while. Forwards Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green added 14 and 13 points, respectively, for the Celtics, who managed to split two games in Miami.
“It was a good win,” Rondo said. “We needed a win; we needed to play better at home, and we did.”
Guard Dwyane Wade led the Heat (46-20) with 17 points, but he shot just 2-for-9 from the floor in the second half, finishing 7-for-17.
“We played another NBA team, on their home floor,” Wade said. “We had the opportunity to win, and we didn’t.”
James, who scored 25 points in the first quarter and 43 overall Tuesday in a win at Cleveland, was a late scratch.
“His back was a little sore,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “We’ll see what he feels like when we get back to Miami.”
Asked whether the Celtics had to change their game plan with James out, Stevens said, “If it’s a choice of playing against LeBron or not, then I’ll plan for him until whenever.
“I hope he’s healthy and it’s a short-term thing. I admire his game.”
Forward Chris Andersen came off Miami’s bench to contribute 16 points and eight rebounds, including 10 points and five boards in the fourth quarter. Haslem scored all of his season-high 14 points in the first half, and former Celtics guard Ray Allen also had 14 points.
Miami big man Chris Bosh grabbed 11 rebounds and had six rebounds, but he was invisible in the fourth quarter, when he didn’t score or grab a rebound.
“We need to pick it up; we are running out of time,” said Bosh, whose team remains three games behind the Indiana Pacers for the Eastern Conference lead after the Pacers losing to the Knicks in New York on Wednesday. “We still have time, but we have to do a better job if we want to win.”
Haslem, who, like Wade, has three championship rings with Miami, made his first start since Nov. 7 and hit his first six shots. He was 7-of-8 from the floor in the first half. He came into the game averaging 2.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, but after four consecutive scoreless games, he had 14 points and five rebounds in the first half.
Anderson then kept the Heat in the game late.
The Heat were guilty of only five fouls and four turnovers in the first half, but they doubled both totals just 5:19 into the second half, allowing the Celtics to rally. The visitors had eight turnovers and six fouls in the third.
NOTES: With the win, the Celtics dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 in the reverse standings. … Miami shot 4-for-17 from 3-point range. … G Dwyane Wade, who usually doesn’t play in back-to-backs, sat out Tuesday and played Wednesday, while C Greg Oden, still working his way back from knee troubles, played Tuesday and sat Wednesday. … Former Celtics G Ray Allen, who heard more boos than cheers when entering the game in the first quarter, on the possibility of having his number retired at TD Garden: “Regardless of what happens in the rafters, I look up and see a (championship) banner, and that’s what makes it so special.” … The Heat play host to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, the same night the Celtics play the Nets in Brooklyn.
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