Heat hustle Celtics, silence Kyrie Irving late

MIAMI, Jan. 10 (UPI) — James Johnson showed that the Miami Heat deserved respect in the Eastern Conference with a mammoth dunk over Kyrie Irving during a 115-99 win against the Boston Celtics on Thursday in Miami.

The rim rattler reverberated throughout the seats of American Airlines Arena and set an emphatic first-quarter tone. Miami also hit a season-high 18 shots from downtown and overcame Irving’s game-high 22 points.

The Heat (20-20) led by as many as 26 points in the clash, but watched that advantage dwindle in the third quarter before finishing strong down the stretch.

Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 19 points. Josh Richardson had 18 points and Justise Winslow had 13 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the win.

“We are trying to move up,” Wade said. “We are trying to continue to get better. Coming into this game, we lost that close one vs. Denver. We lost that close one vs. Toronto. You want to be able to win some of these games against some of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. Tonight it was good to get one of those.”

The Heat led 61-43 at intermission. Irving had 17 points at the break to lead all scorers. Richardson and Winslow each had 10 points at halftime.

Miami and Boston {25-16) went back-and-forth in a fast-paced first frame, with the Heat clinging to a 28-24 advantage. The Celtics could not close the gap in the second quarter as the Heat thrived and pushed the lead to as many as 18 points in the frame.

The Heat put an exclamation point on the first half barrage with a deep 3-pointe rat the buzzer from Derrick Jones Jr.

But Boston used a 21-3 run in the third quarter to cut the lead to single digits. The Heat clung to an 83-72 advantage heading into the final frame.

“They went on their run which was expected,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This team doesn’t go away. They’re far too well coached and they just have too many good players. Even on a back-to-back they’re very competitive.”

Miami poured it on during the stretch and the Celtics froze from the floor. Irving did not score in the fourth quarter.

“They shot extremely well,” Irving said. “They did some great things tonight. You gotta give credit to them today. They came prepared. Made some big shots and we just couldn’t get that run.”

Tyler Johnson came up big with 11 points in the final frame for the Heat.

“They did a good job of imposing their will on us, which they have done a couple of times now in a row,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “So hats off to them.”

The Heat host the Memphis Grizzlies at 5 p.m. on Saturday in Miami. Boston travels a few hours north to face the Orlando Magic at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando.

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