The Eastern Conference finals went from a walk in the park for the Miami Heat to a dogfight over three short days in Boston.
So, with Game 5 of the series set for Tuesday in South Florida, it's all hands on deck for the struggling Heat and that means Chris Bosh may be dusted off and play for the first time since straining a lower abdominal muscle in the opener of the East semifinals against Indiana.
Bosh's status was upgraded to "day-to-day" by Miami coach Erik Spoelstra on Monday, more than three weeks since the injury occurred. Although the coach wouldn't guarantee his All-Star would play, Bosh himself has been telling the Heat he's ready.
"He'll get a vote," Spoelstra said when talking about Bosh's likelihood of suiting up. "Everything is heightened right now. These are extreme circumstances. Everybody will be involved in the decision, if and when it happens. But you always have to take the player's opinion with a grain of salt."
Miami has sorely missed Bosh, a key to the team's pick-and-roll game on offense as well as a crafty defensive player who can create problems for Celtics star Kevin Garnett thanks to his length.
After losing the first two games of the set in South Florida, the Celtics got back into it by holding serve in Beantown, eventually evening the series with an exciting 93-91 overtime win in Game 4 on Sunday.
With LeBron James and Paul Pierce both on the bench after fouling out, Rajon Rondo scored the go-ahead bucket in the extra frame of that one while Dwyane Wade missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, giving the C's the win.
The Celtics were hitting on all cylinders early on Sunday, building up an 18- point cushion in the first half when Pierce was knocking down shots, Ray Allen was hitting three-pointers and Rondo was dissecting the defense with sharp passes. Even the lightly-regarded Keyon Dooling got in on the act.
Indeed, all was right in Boston until the end of the third quarter when the Heat started to make a run to turn what looked like a rout into a nail-biter.
James hit a game-tying three-pointer in the final minute of regulation in front of a stunned TD Garden crowd, but also passed up a chance to win it on the final possession in favor of feeding Udonis Haslem, who missed a contested jumper.
In the end, The Celtics emerged with its second straight win and managed to avoid a 3-1 hole.
"No one said this was going to be easy," said Spoelstra. "It was a heck of a half, but is sure wasn't a heck of a game."
Pierce had 23 points, but lasted only 38 seconds past regulation before he fouled out of another game. Garnett added 17 points and 14 rebounds, Allen scored 16 and Rondo finished with 15 points and 15 assists.
Rondo had three of Boston's four points in overtime after scoring all 12 of their points in the extra session in Game 2 last Wednesday. His layup with 2:33 left made it a 92-91 game and James fouled out soon after.
Rondo later made 1-of-2 free throws for a two-point edge and the Heat turned to Wade with 14 seconds left. Wade held for the shot on the high right side, got Marquis Daniels to fly past on a pump-fake, but his shot rattled off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"I thought it looked good honestly when it left his hands," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who said he warned Daniels about the pump-fake.
James, who fouled out for the first time in 107 career playoff games, had 29 points and Wade scored 20, but the Heat had just two points in OT on a Haslem dunk.
Bosh's possible return in Game 5 changes the complexion of the series even if he's not 100 percent. A seven-time All-Star, the Dallas native is far more skilled than any of the other Heat big men.
"Our offense has changed considerably with him out," Spoelstra said. "He's been an anchor. Everybody knows that's been around our team is he's been a major component."
That's an understatement. Since Bosh arrived in South Beach, the Heat have gone 116-45 (a .720 winning percentage) with him in the lineup and just 12-11 when he's sidelined.
Rivers, meanwhile, has been anticipating Bosh's return for days.
"We don't have to do anything different," Rivers remarked. "We've prepared every game like Bosh is going to play. And eventually, he will. Chris is obviously very talented and poses his own problems, but I don't think Kevin is that concerned with whoever's there."
This is the third straight season that the Heat and Celtics are meeting in the playoffs. Boston won in five games in 2010 in the first round and the Heat won in five last year in the semifinals.
Game 6 of the set is scheduled for Thursday in Boston.