MIAMI — Everyone in the Miami huddle was bracing for a grind to the finish. On the other end, the sense around the Milwaukee bench was that an upset was there for the taking.
Then the Heat landed a swift knockout punch.
Dwyane Wade scored 21 points, LeBron James finished with 19 and the Heat used a frantic start to the fourth quarter to pull away and beat the Bucks 98-86 in Game 2 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night.
It was 68-65 entering the fourth. With James and four backups on the court, the Heat needed only 2 minutes, 22 seconds to outscore Milwaukee 12-0 and stretch the lead to 80-65 — ensuring the reigning NBA champions would take a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 on Thursday night.
“We held court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We protected it for two games. We did what we’re supposed to do. And that’s it.”
Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen all scored 10 points for the Heat. James’ postseason streaks of 22 straight games with at least 20 points, and 16 straight games of at least 25 points, both came to an end.
Ultimately, none of that mattered.
“We didn’t get into our game like we wanted to in that third quarter,” James said. “But we went into the fourth with a (three-point) lead and we were able to jump on them.”
Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points for Milwaukee, which got 16 from Mike Dunleavy and 14 from Larry Sanders. The Bucks’ starting guards, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, combined for only 15 points — after teaming up to score 48 in Game 1.
“It’s a series,” said Sanders, who had a sore right ankle after he collided with Battier in the fourth quarter. “We made progress this game.”
They’ll need to make more, and do it quickly. James has never lost in 10 previous series where his team takes a 2-0 lead, and Wade is 8-0 in that same situation.
“In the playoffs you’ve got to find different ways to win,” Wade said. “No matter what everybody says on the outside, (Milwaukee) is a good team. They played us very well.”
For about 46 minutes, the Bucks played them even.
It was that 12-0 run that was the difference — in what finished as a 12-point game.
Andersen started it with a three-point play, James had a layup not long afterward and the Heat were starting to roll. Another basket by Andersen off a pass from Ray Allen made it 77-65, and James found Norris Cole for a 3-pointer that capped the flurry and made it 80-65.
Just like that, it was over, even to Miami’s surprise.
“They were doing some things that had us spinning around a little bit defensively, got us on our heels, and offensively we never got into a rhythm,” Spoelstra said. “So we figured we were just going to have to find a way to grind in the fourth quarter, figuring it was going to be a close game.”
The Heat have raved about their depth all season, so they had no qualms about sending James out to start the fourth with Cole, Andersen, Battier and Ray Allen.
By the time starters like Wade and Bosh got back onto the court, the task was merely protecting the lead, which the Heat did with relative ease.
“We felt pretty good about the position we were in, giving ourselves an opportunity on the road with 12 minutes to go,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “You feel good about that. Then they come out, go on a 12-0 run and it changes the complexion of the game. Playing catch-up is very hard to do against a high-quality team like Miami.”
Jennings and Ellis combined for 48 points in Game 1, and the Bucks got blown out. So in the first half of Game 2, they combined for one point, were held to five shots that all missed ... and the Bucks were within 47-43 at halftime.
Chances are, very few would have seen that coming.
But play was sloppy from the outset, with the teams combining for eight turnovers in the first 6 minutes to set the tone for a clumsy first half. Wade, James and Chalmers shot 15 for 19 combined in the first half for Miami — and the rest of the Heat were 3 for 17. For Milwaukee, Ilyasova had 12 points in the first 10 minutes, then two points the rest of the half.
So much like in Game 1, Milwaukee came out for the second half with a chance of stealing home-court advantage.
And for the entirety of the third quarter, the Bucks hung around, though the Heat showed some signs of getting things going. Bosh had a dunk for a six-point lead, then made a jumper — on a play that James started by running down a loose ball and flicking it between his legs for a save along the sideline — for a 68-60 lead, what was then the biggest Heat margin of the night.
The Bucks got within 68-65 to end the third, but then came the run that Miami had been waiting for all evening.
Jennings said Milwaukee would win in six games before the series began, and his confidence didn’t waver even now with his club in an 0-2 hole.
“We showed a lot of improvement tonight,” said Jennings, who shot 3 for 15. “Aside of making that run in the fourth I think we should have won this game.”
Both teams got a big scare with 6:59 left. Battier drove for a layup from the right wing, and Sanders rushed down the middle of the lane to attempt a block. A collision ensued and both players hit the court awkwardly, Battier hitting his head on the hardwood and Sanders — who fell over Battier — grabbing at his right leg.
Battier made two free throws, then departed for the Heat locker room to get stitches on his chin.
• Knicks 87, Celtics 71
NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points, Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith added 19, and the New York Knicks opened a 2-0 lead over the Boston Celtics with an 87-71 victory on Tuesday night.
Raymond Felton added 16 points for the Knicks, who used a 27-4 run spanning halftime to blow it open and move halfway to their first series victory since the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals. This is their first 2-0 lead since sweeping Toronto in the first round that year.
Paul Pierce scored 18 points for the Celtics, who will host Game 3 on Friday in their first home game since the Boston Marathon bombings.
They will have to be much sharper to avoid their first opening-round elimination since 2005, before they became one of the NBA’s power teams again.
Kevin Garnett had 12 points and 11 rebounds, but battled foul trouble and spent too much time walking back to the bench with a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd finally experiencing playoff success again hounding him every step of the way.
Plagued by turnovers in Game 1, when they managed eight points in the decisive fourth quarter, the Celtics watched it all fall apart 12 minutes earlier this time.
Anthony followed his 36-point opener by making 8 of 13 shots in the second half to finish 11 of 24 for the game.
He said the Knicks needed to treat the game as a “must-win,” aware of the difficulty of winning in Boston on Friday with the emotional boost the Celtics will get from finally being home.
They showed that mentality after halftime, outscoring Boston 32-11 in the third quarter.
Iman Shumpert drilled two 3-pointers to open the third and tie it before Pierce scored to give Boston its last lead at 50-48. The Knicks scored 18 of the next 20 points, with the Celtics getting just two free throws from Jeff Green over the next 5-plus minutes. Anthony’s jumper with 4:25 remaining in the third capped the run before Garnett finally gave Boston its second basket of the quarter 10 seconds later
The Celtics missed 10 of their first 11 shots of the third while getting outscored 24-4 to open the period.
The Celtics vowed to get Garnett more involved after he shot 4 of 12 while scoring eight points in the opener. But that plan was quickly wrecked when he picked up two fouls in the first 3 minutes, 20 seconds. The Celtics shook it off and led 20-15 when Jason Terry made a 3-pointer with 1:57 left for his first basket of the series.
But the Knicks scored 11 straight to end the period. Smith, recognized before the game for the award he won Monday, kept the celebration going with five points in the final 6.8 seconds, hitting a 36-footer at the buzzer with Celtics all over him to make it 26-20.