BOSTON – The longest winning streak in NBA history is still 10 victories away for the Miami Heat. So it will be a while before Dwyane Wade really focuses on matching the 33-game run of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"Not 'til we get to 32," he said with a smile after one of the greatest challenges to Miami's run of success.
LeBron James hit the go-ahead jumper with 10.5 seconds remaining to cap a 37-point performance and the Heat escaped with a 105-103 win over the Boston Celtics on Monday night for their 23rd straight win, breaking a tie for second with the 2007-08 Houston Rockets.
Just as Wade isn't looking too far ahead, coach Erik Spoelstra didn't have time to consider that the Heat would lose the game — even when the Celtics led by 17 early in the second quarter and by 13 with 8:27 to play.
"I didn't think like that," he said. "We have to stay in the moment."
There was no panic on a team that was playing its third game in four days and had lost its previous 10 regular-season games in Boston. Not even against a Celtics team that had won 11 consecutive home games, starting with a 100-98, double-overtime victory over the Heat on Jan. 27. Miami split its next two games, losing on Feb. 1 at Indiana. Two days later, the winning streak began in Toronto.
Miami's next four opponents — Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando — have the four worst records in the East. The Heat need 11 more wins to surpass the mark the Lakers set in 1971-72, and eight of their next 11 games are against teams with losing records. The biggest threat is San Antonio, which could be the 30th straight victim.
Spoelstra appreciated what the streak means.
"It's a special opportunity that we have with this group and you don't want to take it for granted," he said. "You want to treat every day as a special opportunity to be with this group, to share these moments together, but more importantly to take a step closer to going after our goal and every day that we improve puts us in a better position in a quest where nothing is guaranteed for anybody."
Nothing was guaranteed for the Celtics on Monday night, despite a career-high 43 points by Jeff Green. He got more offensive opportunities because Kevin Garnett missed the game with the flu and a left thigh strain.
But after James converted an offensive rebound to tie the game at 103, Green missed a layup with 1:07 left. Then, after James made the decisive basket, Shane Battier blocked Green's layup with 7.2 seconds to go.
The ball went out of bounds but Paul Pierce, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, missed a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining. Wade, who had 16 points, got the rebound and called timeout with 1.9 seconds left. Courtney Lee committed a non-shooting foul on James with 1.1 seconds to play. Battier then threw the inbounds pass off a Celtic and time expired.
"We had to earn that one, no question about it," Spoelstra said. "They really got into us defensively and made it tough for us to get into our offense. They were just coming at us so fast."
But five years to the day after the Celtics snapped Houston's 22-game streak, the Heat extended theirs to 23.
"It means a lot," James said. "I know the history of the game. To be sitting in second place right now ... for us to be there and doing it the way we want to do it, it means a lot."
James added 12 assists and Mario Chalmers scored 21 for Miami.
"I believed we were going to win the game before the game. I thought we were going to win the game during the game. And I thought we should have won the game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I give them credit. They made some spectacular plays."
The Heat had not won in Boston since the New Big Three was formed — including that double-overtime loss on Jan. 27, when former Celtic Ray Allen returned with his new team.
That was the day Rajon Rondo was diagnosed with an ACL tear that ended his season. This time, it was Garnett who sat out, though Rivers said he would have played if the thigh injury had not been compounded by the flu.
"It was the best team in the league and we took them to the breaking point," Green said. "We've just got to, when Kevin comes back, continue to play like we did today."
Green had 14 points in the first quarter, when the Celtics scored the last 17 to open a 31-19 lead. Boston led by as many as 17 in the second, but Miami went on a 15-6 run just before the half to make it a six-point game and then scored the first eight points in the third quarter to take the lead.
Green had 12 in the second quarter and 12 in the third.
But the Heat still pushed their winning streak to 23.
"No moral victories," Pierce said, "even though it was a close game."
Notes: Miami's win and Atlanta's loss on Monday night clinched the Southeast Division for the Heat. ... Pierce committed seven of the Celtics' 20 turnovers. ... James was called for a technical foul for taunting when he stood over Jason Terry after a dunk. It was James' sixth technical of the season and 39th of his career.