Norris Cole stepped to the foul line with 9.3 seconds left, set to clinch the game as cries of ”M-V-P” rained down upon him from the sold-out stands.
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No, this wasn’t a scene from his days at Cleveland State.
Taking over in just his second NBA game – and with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all on the floor, no less – Cole scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including three huge jumpers down the stretch to save the Heat in a 115-107 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
”You grow up and live for moments like that,” Cole said.
James scored 26 points, Wade had 24 points, eight assists and four blocks, and Bosh scored 18 for the Heat, which led by 20 points midway through the third quarter before having its lead twice sliced to three points in the final minutes. And both times, Cole took passes from James and knocked down jumpers, keeping short-handed Boston at bay.
Ray Allen scored 28 points on 8 for 12 shooting for the Celtics, while Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points and 12 assists and Keyon Dooling scored 18 off the Boston bench.
Through two games, Miami (2-0) has trailed only once – by two points, for all of 14 seconds. Boston turned the ball over 24 times, and Miami turned those into 33 points.
”Any team you turn the ball over that much they’re going to score on you,” Allen said. ”We just have to settle in on both ends of the floor. Whether you score or not, they’re going to run down your throats.”
Cole’s jumper with 3:01 left gave Miami a 108-98 lead, most of which disappeared in the next 59 seconds, thanks to Dooling – a former Heat guard. He scored seven straight points, including a 3-pointer with 2:02 remaining, cutting the Heat’s lead to three. And when Boston got a stop on the next Miami trip, the Celtics looked for Dooling again.
But Wade stepped in front of a pass intended for Dooling, starting a play where James found Cole for another jumper, and Miami’s cushion was back to 110-105 with 1:31 to play. A half-minute later, Cole struck again to restore the five-point edge, and Miami had the win.
”He’s earned their respect,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”Even though it’s been a short period of time, about three weeks, because he’s pure, he’s all about the team. He’s mature … and he gets them the ball. You’re always a popular guy when you find people when they’re open.”
Boston was again without forward Paul Pierce (bruised right heel), who worked out both Monday and Tuesday and is getting closer to a return. It won’t come on Wednesday, however – the Celtics have already ruled him out of that game in New Orleans, but there is some hope of Pierce being in the lineup when Boston makes its home debut against Detroit on Friday.
Maybe spurred by the new Eastern Conference championship banner hanging from the rafters, Miami came out flying.
A short bank shot by Wade made it 26-15 at barely the midpoint of the first quarter, setting the tone for an offensive bonanza the likes of which Boston typically doesn’t allow. After a late flurry – James setting up Wade for a lob, Wade missing at the rim but James trailing for a tip-in being perhaps the most impressive of Miami’s highlight reel to close the second quarter – the Heat took a 69-54 lead into the locker room.
That represented the most first-half points allowed by the Celtics since Feb. 8, 2005, according to STATS LLC.
Six straight points by James made it 85-65 midway through the third, and Miami was well on its way to a blowout. But then everything changed – Boston went to a zone, and Miami’s offense stopped in its tracks.
Feasting on Miami’s second unit, with James being the only starter on the floor, the Celtics closed the third on an 18-6 run to make it 91-83 entering the fourth. The Heat missed their last eight shots of the quarter – after having missed 14, total, in the first 32 minutes of the game.
Boston never got the lead down the stretch, though, thanks to Cole.
”We have confidence in whoever’s on the floor at that time,” James said. ”For him to make those shots and come up big in a game like that, give credit to him.”
Notes: After two games, the Heat have 131 points in first halves this season. After three games last season, Miami had 130 first-half points. … Celtics F Chris Wilcox didn’t play in the second half because of a bruised left shoulder. X-rays were negative. … The Heat said the luster of the matchup wasn’t hurt by Pierce not being available. ”We play the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back,” Wade said. … Celebrity sightings included Miami Dolphins RB Reggie Bush, rapper Rick Ross and retired tennis star Boris Becker.