It's possible Dwyane Wade didn't completely grasp that there's really no need to try to intentionally miss a free throw with a two-point lead and 0.6 seconds left to play.
And maybe -- just maybe -- Celtics forward Jeff Green wasn't aware he was trespassing on sacred ground when he nailed a 3-pointer from Ray Allen's corner to punctuate a 111-110 victory over Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena.
At least one thing was clear about the Heat's stunning loss Saturday night: Regardless of how the final seconds played out, Miami can look to nearly 48 minutes' worth of defensive meltdowns to discover how this one got away.
“We can't afford to trade baskets with anyone, no matter who we're playing,” LeBron James said. “It hurt us. We messed around with the game tonight, and that was that.”
The Heat messed around and lost their defensive identity as the Celtics essentially played pick-up ball and took turns driving to the rim for dunks and circus shots or stepping back for desperation jumpers to beat the shot clock. Boston shot 52 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range to rally from a four-point deficit with 3.6 seconds left.
The Heat messed around and lost their minds, with Wade missing a key free throw and making two costly decisions in the final minute to open the door for Boston.
The first came when the Heat had possession with 36 seconds left and Wade dribbled aimlessly before he passed to Chris Bosh, who missed a rushed jumper from the wing. On the surface, it doesn't appear to be a blunder because the Heat work their two-man game through Bosh routinely.
The problem was that Wade never looked to find James, who, despite battling through back pain, carried the Heat on his shoulders throughout the fourth and had the hot hand. James scored 11 of his 25 points in the final period, when he was 4-of-6 from the field and a decoy at the end.
But it's the second of Wade's late-game mistakes that drew most of the attention. After missing his first free throw attempt with 0.6 seconds left and the Heat ahead 110-108, Wade decided to intentionally miss the second, hoping the clock would run out amid the scramble for the rebound.
But Wade's two-handed chest pass toward the basket clanked off the square on the backboard and never hit the rim, which resulted in a violation and gave the ball back to the Celtics with no time elapsing off the clock. Boston used a timeout to advance the ball to half court for the inbound play. Celtics first-year coach Brad Stevens then called a play he never used before, with Gerald Wallace hitting Green with a cross-court pass for the game-winning shot.
“Just 0.6 [seconds] left, I was trying to hit the rim and it didn't go as planned,” Wade said. “It wasn't one of our better hours. If we would have won this, we would have stolen one. Instead, they stole one. They played better than us tonight. It went the way it was supposed to go.”
In other words, the Heat didn't deserve to win. Miami reverted Saturday to several of the bad habits players and coach Erik Spoelstra had spent the past week working to overcome during a three-game winning streak. Defensive lapses, poor communication and attempts at hero ball were all on display for Miami, particularly down the stretch.
That combination doesn't go very well with a relentless effort from the Celtics, who won their third in a row after an 0-4 start to a rebuilding season following the departures of Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and with catalyst Rajon Rondo out recovering from knee surgery.
But none of that mattered from the outset. From the moment Green blew past James for an emphatic dunk on Shane Battier in the opening minutes to the high-arching jumper he drilled in the final second, Boston never backed down.
On the final play, Stevens drew up a play designed to tie the game on a two-point shot to send it to overtime. The Celtics got greedy and went for the win. And why not?
“It seemed like everything went right for us in that last minute of the game, so we felt like this was our time,” Wallace said. “The main thing was to stay in the fight and not get knocked out early, especially against a team like Miami that likes to knock you out in the first half.”
The irony in the finish is that it was familiar on two fronts. The Heat's previous loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 1 ended with Bosh trying to miss a free throw with the Heat down by two and hoping to get an offensive rebound and putback. Instead, Bosh mistakenly made it to lock up a 101-100 loss.
“I'll tell you what -- we just need to cover more things,” Spoelstra bristled after Saturday's loss. “We do. We need to cover more situations. That clearly did not work. I could go on and on. You could see it. The lack of awareness, the energy, the effort. Running it down our gut. Beating us off the dribble. Open shots all night. Categorically, it's probably across the board, we were very poor.”
Five months ago, Bosh was on the winning side of a miraculous play that featured Allen's shot in that same corner to help the Heat rally from a five-point deficit in the final 30 seconds to force overtime in Game 6 of the Finals.
On Saturday, Wallace's pass sailed right beyond Bosh's outstretched arms and found Green, who faded into the courtside seats as he launched the shot over James.
Far different stakes. But still the same feeling.
“They started hitting bombs and they finished with a bomb,” Bosh said. “Things are going to even out. I believe in balance. It happens to you sometimes. If you give a team confidence, they'll start hitting shots. And if it comes down to one shot, which it should, it lines up perfectly for them.”