BOSTON -- This is what Doc Rivers meant when he talked about the NBA being a "make-miss" league.
In the final seconds of yet another emotionally charged classic Boston Celtics-Miami Heat playoff scrum, the game's outcome rested in the hands of Dwyane Wade, Miami's All-Star closer.
The Boston defender that stood between Wade and the basket was Marquis Daniels, who, until Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, was a seldom-used reserve, an afterthought, the dude with the dreadlocks.
The dude with the dreadlocks was told by his coach in the huddle that his man would wind up with the ball, particularly since LeBron James had fouled out 1:37 earlier, especially since Chris Bosh was still donning tailored suits instead of tapered game shorts.
"We told him, 'Watch the pump fake,'" Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Wade, not unlike Paul Pierce, had tricked many defenders into fouling by exhibiting a deft sleight of hand. And, sure enough, with the seconds ticking down, Wade pump-faked on cue. As he lofted the shot, the dude in the dreadlocks jumped away to avoid contact.
So there was Wade, with a clear look at the basket, releasing a shot he has taken -- and made -- hundreds of times before.
"It was on line," Wade said.
"I thought it looked good when it left his hands," Rivers admitted.
"It seemed like the longest shot ever," Daniels confessed. "Like one of those commercials."
Had Wade's 3-pointer rolled all the way down, instead of sinking part way, then richocheting out, the Miami Heat would be up 3-1 in these Eastern Conference finals and strutting back to South Beach with all the swagger of a team poised to advance in pursuit of the first of the "not one not two not three not four" championships we have heard so much about.
That 3-point basket would have provided Miami with a 94-93 overtime victory and would have been akin to taking a 4-by-4 and snapping it half over their collective backs of the Celtics, who led by as many as 18 points Sunday night.
Had that shot stayed on line, we'd be lamenting a lost opportunity for Boston -- and projecting their season to be as good as done. We'd be talking about fatigue and age and the death of the Big Four and the brilliance of Wade in the face of pressure.
But since Wade's shot rolled around and out at the buzzer, the Celtics were the 93-91 victors in Game 4. They have knotted the series 2-2 and have (yet again) new life, new hope, new faith. This morning there will be questions about Miami's fortitude, their ability to close out a series and their inability to thwart the resiliency of the wily old men in green.
"Haven't you guys figured this out by now?" asked Keyon Dooling, who knocked down three clutch three-pointers. "We're built for adversity."
It kind of makes you wonder if Kevin Garnett was on to something when he turned to Paul Pierce shortly before the playoffs began and told him, "You know, this team has an '08 feel to it.''
That team, you might recall, won the NBA championship in its first year with The New Three. Back then Rajon Rondo was still the earnest little brother, a promising young point guard trying to soak in knowledge from his far more decorated elders. Back then, the middle was patrolled by Kendrick Perkins, one of the most popular guys in the locker room, a scowling mountain of effort and brawn and emotion.
Perkins is long gone, and so is that little earnest young point guard.
Rondo is all grown up now, although he apparently reserves the right to torture us all with flashes of petulance that leave him teetering on the brink of a meltdown, only to regain his composure in time to the most critical bucket of the night.
The point guard did a marvelous job in the opening quarters of setting the pace and locating his teammates, including the rejuvenated Ray Allen (he has come alive since Doc Rivers wondered aloud if he should sit a game to rest his balky ankle).
The Celtics were dominating the game, 61-43, when Rondo (8 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers at the time) plowed his way to the hoop with 1:09 until halftime and was whistled for an offensive foul. As Rondo lay on the ground entangled with Shane Battier, he unleashed a kick in the Heat forward's direction.
Referee Joey Crawford T'd him up, leading an irked Rondo to respond to ESPN sideline reporter Doris Burke's question at halftime about how he was exploiting holes in the Heat's defense by declaring, "Them complaining and crying to the referees in transition."
By the 3:35 mark of the third quarter, Rondo had been whistled for four personals -- all four of them offensive fouls.
With Miami trapping him and presenting different defensive schemes, Rondo did not take another shot until there was 3:08 left to play and the 18-point lead had completely evaporated.
Yet it was Rondo who scored Boston's lone field goal in overtime, a hesitation tear drop in transition that nudged the Celtics in front 92-91. Forty-three seconds later, Mickael Pietrus absorbed a charge on LeBron James, and the incredulous league MVP was gone for the night with his sixth foul.
Both Pierce and LeBron fouled out of the game. For The Truth, it was his third DQ in this postseason; for King James, it was the first time since April of 2008, and only the fifth time in his NBA career.
Asked the last time he remembered two players of that magnitude watching a dramatic postseason finish from the sidelines, veteran Ray Allen answered, "I don't ever remember that."
Miami had only itself to blame for a lackluster first half in which it was mediocre offensively, disinterested defensively and impotent off the glass. For a team that is younger, faster, more athletic and features two of the most dangerous scorers in the league, it was an underwhelming effort at a critical time in this series.
"We weren't as committed as we can be," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra acknowledged.
The inevitable Heat run and simultaneous Celtics collapse ensued during a drought in which Boston went 5:49 without scoring. Give Miami's defense props for that. On a night when Kevin Garnett missed 12 of his 20 shots, each possession was a struggle.
In a make-miss league, sometimes a broken play like Brandon Bass badly mishandling a pass turns into a fortuitous bounce toward Allen, who calmly drills a 3.
In a make-miss league, Udonis Haslem catches KG leaning the wrong way on a Celtics' rotation and drives past him for a demonstrative dunk, accounting for the only field goal his team recorded in OT.
Ask any NBA star and they will say teams make their own luck. The Heat understand their fortunes should never have come down to a Wade trey on a night he was 7-of-22 from the floor and 2-for-6 from the 3-point line.
"You know, that shot, it could have gone either way," mused the dude with the dreadlocks. "I'm glad he missed ..."
"It just decided it didn't want to go in," Wade said.
The miss provides Boston with new answers, and Miami with new questions. Sunday night was anyone's game -- and now it's anyone's series.