MIAMI (AP) — Rajon Rondo posted a stat line never before seen in NBA playoff history. He was on the court for every second of a game that finished more than three hours after it started. He scored more points in a single overtime than anyone this season.
His night was called incredible, amazing and unbelievable — and that was by the Miami Heat.
And when it was over, Rondo could only express disappointment that the Boston Celtics needed more.
LeBron James scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored eight of his 23 points in overtime and the Heat took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 115-111 win over the Celtics on Wednesday night, overcoming what will surely go down as the best game of Rondo’s career to move within six wins of an NBA title.
“We lost,” Rondo said, shrugging off talk of the historical ramifications of his night. “Simple as that.”
Rondo’s final numbers: 44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds. He scored all 12 of Boston’s overtime points, giving the Celtics the lead three times, only to have the Heat answer each of those. And when he finally missed in the extra session — on a play where Rondo said he got struck in the face by Wade — then and only then could Miami put Boston away.
Game 3 is Friday night in Boston, where the Celtics will try to make this a series. No Celtics team has successfully rallied from an 0-2 hole since 1969.
“He really played his heart out and carried the load for us offensively,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. “He shot the ball, did everything possible you could ask for in him. You just hate to see an effort like that really go to waste.”
Mario Chalmers scored 22 points for Miami, which got 13 points, 11 rebounds and three assists off the bench from Udonis Haslem. The entire Celtics bench combined for seven points, five rebounds and one assist.
Miami trailed by 15 points in the first half, making this the largest deficit the Heat have overcome to win a playoff game in their history. Miami had rallied from 14 points down to win twice before in the postseason, one of those being the game that clinched the 2006 NBA title.
“There just can’t be any other way with this team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And it has to be the hard way.”
The Heat won on a night where so many things — Rondo’s effort included — suggested that they were in going to be in trouble.
There was the big early deficit, a 7-for-20 shooting effort from the floor by James, Wade going scoreless until the final seconds of the first half, 16 missed free throws and two missed chances to win — both shots by James — at the end of regulation.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Boston’s Big Four were Big again. Pierce scored 21 points before fouling out. Kevin Garnett scored 18 points and added eight rebounds. Ray Allen, ailing right ankle and all, went through two gameday shooting workouts to try to snap out of a slump and apparently did, finishing with 13 points, the last three of those coming on a 3-pointer that tied the game at 99-all with 34.3 seconds left in regulation.
Miami managed to survive it all. Haslem’s dunk with 1:28 left in overtime to put Miami on top for good, Wade had a three-point play with 59.7 seconds left, and the Heat won their sixth straight East finals game going back to last season.
“One of the best games I’ve played in, win or lose,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “It’s easier said when you win — but it’s unbelievable.”
Miami was down by as many as 11 in the third quarter, before a pair of 3-pointers by James started a comeback. Wade made consecutive jumpers midway through the third to shake off a slow start to his night, and the 2006 NBA finals MVP set up Haslem for a three-point play that gave Miami its first lead since the opening minutes, 73-71.
As Haslem’s shot dropped, Wade spun at midcourt and punched the air. More highlights followed.
Miami’s lead reached seven points in the third after James blocked Pierce’s shot near the rim, sending the ball high into the air and starting a sequence that was capped by a three-point play from Wade, pushing the margin to 78-71. It capped a 12-0 run for the Heat, who took an 81-75 lead into the fourth.
James stole the ball from Rondo early in the fourth, drove down the court and got wrapped up by Mickael Pietrus, who was assessed a clear-path foul, meaning Miami got two free throws and the ball. James missed both foul shots, Mike Miller missed a 3-pointer later in the possession, and the lead stayed at 85-81.
Barely a minute later, it was gone. Pietrus hit a 3-pointer, Rondo followed with a steal and layup and Boston led 86-85. The margin was out to five with 3:50 left after a jumper by Pierce, and the Celtics looked to be in control.
“We never felt like we were out of it,” Wade said.
They were right. A 9-0 run gave Miami the lead back, before Allen’s 3 tied the game. James missed a layup with 21 seconds left, but got his own rebound and extended the possession. He tried a jumper with 2 seconds left to win it, the shot missed, and the teams went to overtime, where the reigning MVP missed two more free throws to start the extra period.
“LeBron James took 24 free throws tonight,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And our team took 29.”
Miami finished 31 of 47 from the line, Boston was 26 of 29. The Celtics were called for 33 personal fouls, Miami 18.
Rondo nearly rendered all those talking points moot. He was 4 for 5 from the floor in overtime, but with Pierce having fouled out and Garnett and Allen having combined to play over 80 minutes at that point, it seemed like Rondo was going 1-on-5.
He almost pulled it off.
“Rondo was absolutely amazing,” James said. “The performance he put on tonight will go down in the record books.”
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