BOSTON — Miami’s Big Three was assembled for just this purpose: To dominate the bullies from Boston who knocked them from the playoffs so many times before.
LeBron James scored 35 points, Dwyane Wade had 28 and Chris Bosh had 20 on Monday night to give the Heat a 98-90 overtime victory over the Celtics and move Miami within one game of the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat lead the best-of-seven East semifinals 3-1, with a chance to close out the series in Miami on Wednesday.
“Wednesday night will be our greatest challenge that we’ve had with this group so far,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ll get their best games on Wednesday. And we have to be better. If we’re real about what we want to do, we have to beat the Boston Celtics at their best.”
One game after their worst performance as a threesome, James, Wade and Bosh had 83 of Miami’s 98 points and 35 of its 45 rebounds. They scored all 12 of Miami’s points in overtime; Bosh and Wade had five apiece after James’ fallaway jumper on the Heat’s first possession of the extra period gave them the lead for good.
“We’re the guys. We’re the ones who get all the attention. We’re the ones that get all the praise,” Wade said. “This team is going to go as far as us three takes it.”
Paul Pierce scored 27, Ray Allen had 17 and Kevin Garnett had seven points and 10 rebounds for Boston. Rajon Rondo, who dislocated his left elbow Saturday night in Game 3, played 39 minutes with a padded sleeve covering what appeared to be a brace on his left arm, scoring 10 with five assists.
The Celtics would need to win the next three games — two in Miami — to have a chance to defend their Eastern Conference championship.
“These are those moments. I look forward to it,” Allen said. “Everybody on this team, we know what to do. We can’t talk about it; we just have to put our best foot forward. It’s not easy. It just makes it that much more special if we’re able to do it.”
Boston has reached the NBA finals in two of the last three seasons, both times knocking James and the Cavaliers out along the way. The Celtics eliminated the Heat last year one round after knocking Cleveland out and sending James on the journey that landed him in Miami.
In all, Wade had lost 11 straight regular-season and playoff games in Boston. James had lost 13 of 15, including the one that ended his Cleveland career.
“I haven’t had much success in this building,” James said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to just come out and do whatever it took.”
Boston took an 84-81 lead with 2:28 left after back-to-back 3-pointers by Delonte West and Allen, but James hit a 3 to tie it and then made a left-handed lay-in with 48 seconds to play to give Miami an 86-84 lead. Pierce drove to the basket to tie it, but James lost control of the ball while he was dribbling down the clock.
Allen went for it and was bumped by James Jones, giving Boston the ball out of bounds with 19.5 seconds left and the game tied at 86. Pierce got the ball, waited out the clock and then took a high-arcing fallaway jumper in the final seconds that bounced off the rim as time expired.
The Celtics scored just four points in overtime, shooting 1 for 6 and making four of their 18 turnovers. Garnett started things off by throwing the ball away, and then James made a fallaway jumper as the shot clock expired to give Miami an 88-86 lead.
Allen missed, Bosh dunked at the other end, West missed a 3-pointer and then James drew a charging foul on Pierce. After another Boston turnover, Wade made a 2-pointer with his foot on the 3-point arc to give Miami a 92-86 lead with 2 minutes left in overtime.
“We just had poor execution down the stretch,” Pierce said. “It just carried into overtime, it seemed like. We feel like tonight we beat ourselves.”
One game after the Heat’s Big Three combined for just 44 points — their lowest total since they assembled their superteam in Miami — they provided almost all the offense. No one else had more than four points, and the Heat’s bench totaled just seven, but they won in Boston to earn the chance to finish it in five.
“Our goal was to come out and compete for two games and hopefully get one. And we accomplished that goal,” Bosh said. “We’re one more win away from our short-term goal, and we just have to keep playing together and keep the defensive frame of mind that we did for the last three quarters.”
The 83 total points is tied for ninth-most by the Big Three, and their 84.7 percent of total team points is the second-highest percentage of the season, according to STATS LLC.
Miami won the first two games at home, but the Celtics responded when the series returned to Boston and clamped down on the Heat’s Big Three to win Game 3 97-81. Garnett had his best game of the series, scoring 28 with 18 rebounds, but the star for Boston was Rondo.
The Celtics point guard returned from a dislocated left elbow and provided his team with the spark it had been missing.
There was some doubt about whether he would be ready for Game 4 — but not in Rondo’s mind.
An MRI and CT scan on the day off were both negative, and Rondo was back in the lineup.
Instead, it was Spoelstra shuffling his lineup, activating Udonis Haslem for the first time since November foot surgery and rewarding Joel Anthony for his play in the early games with his first start of the playoffs.
Haslem made just one appearance in the first three quarters, playing 3 minutes and picking up an offensive foul, a loose-ball foul and a technical foul.
But the Big Three was back.
The Heat went on a 10-2 run in the third quarter to take a 63-59 lead. It was a three-point game when Allen hit a 3-pointer and Boston scored 11 straight points to take a 73-65 lead before Miami scored the last two baskets — on layups by Anthony and James — to end the third quarter trailing by four.
Notes: Miami had zero assists in the second quarter, and just eight through three. … Boston activated point guard Carlos Arroyo in case Rondo’s elbow and West’s shoulder became a problem. He did not get into the game. … Jermaine O’Neal was called for a flagrant foul on James in the first five minutes, perhaps an attempt by the officials to make sure things didn’t get nasty after Saturday night’s takedown in which Rondo was injured.