Rajon Rondo delivered the trash talk at halftime and the big plays in overtime.
And after one final defensive stand, the Boston Celtics are two wins away from an improbable chance to play for another championship.
Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists, and scored the final three points of the Celtics’ 93-91 overtime victory at home over the Heat on Sunday night that evened the Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece.
Getting a huge break when LeBron James fouled out for the first time since moving to Miami, the Celtics recovered after blowing an 18-point lead in regulation.
Kevin Garnett added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Celtics, while Paul Pierce scored 23 points before fouling out. Ray Allen finished with 16 points.
“Stops,” Rondo said when asked what was the difference in the tight game. “I think we executed offensively, came up with some lucky plays and we got stops at the end.”
James had 29 points and Dwyane Wade scored 20 after another dismal start for the Heat, who host Game 5 on Tuesday.
“Not stressed, the series is tied 2-2,” James said. “It’s great basketball, great competition. We wanted to get one up here and we didn’t.”
In a game that started as a Celtics blowout and turned into a foul- and tension-filled fourth quarter, followed by the second overtime in this series, the Celtics held on when Wade missed a potential winning 3-pointer on the last possession.
“We knew they were going to Wade. I wanted to check him,” Rondo said. “They set a great pick. … We’re lucky we got a stop.”
Mickael Pietrus drew James’ sixth foul and grabbed two huge offensive rebounds that extended consecutive possessions for the Celtics, who lost Game 4 in overtime in a second-round series against the Heat last year with a chance to tie the series.
This time, they overcame their second-half stall on the offensive end by limiting the Heat to just one basket in overtime, by Udonis Haslem.
“At the end you have a chance to win after 50-plus minutes and losing the MVP. Hey, you’ll take that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Rondo’s layup gave the Celtics a 92-91 lead with 2:34 remaining, and neither team scored again until he made a free throw with 21 seconds to play. Wade, already finding it tough to locate any room with Chris Bosh out and then having to do it James also on the sideline, saw his potential winning attempt bounce off the rim as time expired.
In what started as possibly the final Beantown game for the Celtics’ Big Three, Boston scored 61 points in a sensational first half that concluded with some televised trash talk from Rondo. But the Celtics managed only 12 points in the third quarter, and Wade finally got going after managing just eight points on 2-of-11 shooting in the first half.
“Our execution in the first half was flawless,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It was as good as maybe we’ve had. And then we just got away from it.”
With the Celtics down by two, Pierce and Rondo made consecutive layups for an 85-83 edge with 3:08 to go in regulation. But with the Celtics up three, they lost James, who was wide open with plenty of time to set himself for a 3-pointer that evened it at 89 with 37.5 seconds left.
Garnett was called for an offensive foul on the next possession, giving the Heat the ball back with 21 seconds left. But they passed it around too long, leaving them with a long forced attempt from Haslem that was well off before the buzzer.
FORMER BLAZER DIES
LeRoy Ellis, who played 14 years in the NBA after a standout career at St. John’s, died of prostate cancer in Portland. He was 72.
Ellis appeared in 1,048 NBA games with the Lakers, Baltimore, Portland and Philadelphia. He posted career averages of 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, and was a member of Los Angeles’ 1972 championship team.
He was an expansion draft pick of the Trail Blazers and led the team in rebounds (12.3) and ranked third in scoring (15.9) in their first season in 1970-71.
His son, LeRon, played three seasons in the NBA.