When the Miami Heat, trailing by eight at the quarter break, opened the final period on a 7-0 run, it seemed certain that they would overtake and defeat the visiting Boston Celtics. The Heat, after all, went into Tuesday night's game with the best home record in the NBA at 24-3. Boston had maintained a double digit lead for most of the game to that point based mostly on the strength of uncanny shooting in the neighborhood of 60 percent. Surely here in the fourth the Miami defense would clamp down, the Celtics shooters would come back to Earth and the Heat would get the win they needed to stay in the hunt for the best record in the league.
Instead, the Celtics just got hotter. Hitting jumper after jumper, they immediately rebuilt the lost lead, and registered a huge 115-107 victory.
After the Heat had cut the lead to one, the Celtics proceeded to make their next eight shots without a miss -- and not a dunk or a layup in sight. They scored 19 points on nine straight possessions, all of them jump shots of 15 feet or more, and all against a Miami defense that is fifth in the league in field goal percentage against.
Leading the charge was none other than Kevin Garnett, 5-5 in the fourth quarter and 11-14 in the game for 24 points. Paul Pierce also had a big game with 27 points and Rajon Rondo had 18 points and 15 assists, his 18th consecutive game with 10 or more assists. The Celtics have won 10 of their last 13 games and are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference right now -- but they've mostly been doing it with defense. Tuesday night it was all about shooting. The Celtics final field goal percentage of .606 ranks as the third best shooting game in the league this season.
While the Celtics seem to be peaking at exactly the right time, the Heat are struggling as much as they have this season, having lost half of their last 10 games. The opposition has been strong to be certain, with losses to Memphis, Indiana, Oklahoma City and Boston (twice now), but if the Heat are supposed to be a truly elite team, they really should be winning these games, particularly at this time of year, particularly at home. The Bulls have been playing without Derrick Rose and recently lost consecutive games for the first time all season -- but Miami has been unable to capitalize on Chicago's missteps in the standings as it has struggled itself.
The Heat still control their own destiny for best record in the East. They sit three games behind the Bulls, but only two games back in the loss column, with two meetings against Chicago left to play -- including one coming up on Thursday. If Miami can win both of its remaining meetings with Chicago, it will hang two more losses on the Bulls while at the same time winning the season series tie-breaker. But with their recent losses, the Heat have left themselves no margin for error to catch Chicago.
Meanwhile Boston is moving the other direction. Barely above .500 three weeks ago and seemingly in danger of missing the playoffs completely, they now have a firm grip on the Atlantic Division and with it a four seed in the playoffs. And while the division crown guarantees them no worse than the fourth seed, it does not guarantee home court advantage. They trail Atlanta, their current first round opponent, by a game -- with two games left on the schedule between the teams, including Wednesday night. If the Celtics win that one, they'll truly be in fourth place in the East and in position for home court advantage in the first round.
A month ago the conventional wisdom was that Boston was too old and too slow to compete. With two wins over Miami in the last 10 days, they now look like the East team that no one wants to play -- least of all the Heat.
For all of Tuesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.