MIAMI (AP) — Their charter flight home from Boston landed around 3 a.m. Tuesday, and the Miami Heat were back at work less than 12 hours later.
Typically, such a late arrival would merit a day off.
Not now — not when on the cusp of knocking off the team that has pained Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Heat for so long.
Up 3-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Heat will go for the clincher at home against the Celtics on Wednesday night. Miami grabbed control with a 98-90 overtime win in Boston on Monday night, and now stands one victory away from reaching the East finals for the first time since the 2006 championship run.
“This is not a team that you let your guard down against,” Wade said.
“No way,” instantly chimed in James, nodding as he stood on Wade’s left.
It was not a long workout for the Heat on Tuesday, mostly film work and some light shooting. The Celtics took the day off, opting instead to gather around midday for their flight to South Florida, though it was certain that ailing players like Rajon Rondo — who remains hampered mightily by the aftereffects of dislocating his elbow in Game 3 — would be getting some treatment.
“I’ll be fine,” Rondo said. “I’m playing.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not available for comment Tuesday. The team had to cancel a planned early evening teleconference because of technical problems.
The Heat do not plan any changes to the starting lineup, coach Erik Spoelstra said, meaning Joel Anthony will remain at center to open the game and Zydrunas Ilgauskas will come off the bench, as will point guard Mario Chalmers behind first-stringer Mike Bibby.
Minutes after Game 4 ended, Spoelstra began telling his team that ending Boston’s season would be its toughest challenge yet. He did not back down from that on Tuesday.
“We can expect their best,” Spoelstra said. “We know we’re getting their best effort and I’m sure they’ll play well. We’ll have to play better.”
Wade and James, who combined for 63 points in Game 4, concurred. They became teammates, in part, to beat Boston after the Celtics thwarted James’s plan to bring a title to Cleveland and dominated the Heat since 2007, including a five-game ousting of Miami in the opening round of last season’s playoffs.
“This is like an Eastern Conference finals type-of-buildup series,” Wade said. “And it’s been played out that way.”
Maligned much of the season for their collective struggles late in close games, the Heat got contributions across the board to pull it out in Game 4. James made a 3-pointer — “A backbreaker,” Celtics guard Ray Allen said later — inches away from the Boston bench to tie it at 84 with 2 minutes left in regulation. Wade’s long jumper with 2:01 left in overtime was for a 92-86 lead and rendered Boston’s crowd silent. And Chris Bosh sealed the win with 24 seconds left, tipping in James’ miss to put Miami up by five.
“We executed well down the stretch defensively and offensively,” said Heat forward James Jones, who made another key play by fouling Allen and taking away a potential Boston fast break with the game tied at 86 with 19 seconds left in regulation. “I think it was just our presence of mind, our determination. We had mistakes. We made some mistakes.”
So did Boston.
The Celtics’ miscues were far more noticeable down the stretch.
Rondo missed a layup with 1:11 left in regulation, misfiring on an easy chance to give Boston what would have been a two-point lead. Paul Pierce had to take a wild shot at the fourth-quarter buzzer after Allen and Kevin Garnett collided on a play that could have won the game for the Celtics and instead left them all shaking their heads.
In overtime, Boston had as many turnovers — four — as points.
“When our back is against the wall, that’s when we show great resilience,” Garnett said. “We’ll see what we’re made of.”
If the Celtics lose, some sweeping changes may be on the way.
The core of the team likely will remain the same for at least one more season. But Rivers — whose contract is expiring at season’s end — has often said the lure of spending more time with family is difficult to ignore.
And a loss may spell the end of the Shaquille O’Neal era.
He eclipsed the 50,000-minute mark for his career last month and time has clearly taken its toll on his body, so there will surely be widespread speculation that whenever Boston’s season ends, the final buzzer for O’Neal’s career may beckon as well.
But in the Boston locker room late Monday, all that mattered was winning Game 5 and extending the series.
“We’ve got to get one win right now,” Pierce said. “That’s the focus. … It’s all on the line.”