MIAMI -- At this point, it's all a struggle.
Even when finally getting the defense right in the first half. Even after pushing to an 18-point lead. Even after getting buzzer-beating three-pointers at the end of each of the opening two periods from Michael Beasley and Chris Bosh, respectively.
Back home after a 2-4 trip, the Miami Heat found little relief Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
This proved to be about survival, nothing more.
Playing without Dwyane Wade for a third consecutive game, this one took far more than ever could have been expected before exiting with a 93-86 victory over the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Forward LeBron James led the Heat with 29 points, with Bosh adding 16 at the start of this four-game homestand. There also was a solid support effort from backup center Chris Andersen, who closed with 13 points and seven rebounds.
A transition dunk by Celtics center Kris Humphries tied it 82-82 with 5:25 to play, shortly after a Bosh 3-pointer pushed the Heat to an 82-78 lead.
James then scored on a driving layup, was fouled, but missed the ensuing free throw, to leave the Heat up 84-82.
A 15-foot jumper by Celtics forward Jared Sullinger followed with 4:32 left to tie it 84-84. Humphries then followed with a dunk with 3:08 to play for an 86-84 Celtics lead.
A pair of free throws by James tied it 86-86 with 2:33 to play, with a Ray Allen jumper putting the Heat up 88-86 with 1:52 left.
James then helped force a turnover on Celtics forward Jeff Green, the hero of Boston's Nov. 9 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena, with 1:12 left.
James earned his way back to the line with 59.2 seconds left, making both foul shots for a 90-86 Heat lead.
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, in his first week back from last season's devastating knee injury, then got to the line with 44.4 seconds left, missing both attempts to fall to 1 of 4 for the night.
Again James put his head down and barreled to the rim, this time making a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left for a 92-86 Heat lead.
Rondo then was off with a jumper, effectively ending it.
Even after pushing to an 18-point second-period lead and taking an 11-point lead into the intermission, the Heat found themselves up only 71-67 going into the fourth quarter.
That slim lead came even with the Celtics having lost starting shooting guard Avery Bradley for the night in the second period with a sprained right ankle and with Rondo playing on a minutes restriction.
The Heat finally got it right with their first-half defense, taking a 51-40 lead into the intermission. The second period featured a matchup for former Heat teammates Greg Oden and Joel Anthony, who was dealt last week to Boston in the three-team deal that landed the Heat guard Toney Douglas from the Golden State Warriors. Douglas was inactive Tuesday, his first day with the team.
Anthony received a warm ovation after a first-quarter tribute on the scoreboard and then entered at the start of the second period.
While Anthony surprisingly hit a 13-foot jumper in his initial stint, Oden's best minutes for the Heat came on the defensive end, with a blocked shot and later an aggressive trap that led to a James breakaway dunk on the other end.
The Heat again opened with Allen in place of Wade, who missed his 11th game of the season, 10th due to knee maintenance.
The Celtics entered on a nine-game road losing streak, with losses in 11 of their previous 12 overall.
For the first time this season, Wade's knee maintenance program translated into a third consecutive game missed, after sitting out Saturday in Charlotte and Monday in Atlanta.
With the Heat coming off a six-game trip, coach Erik Spoelstra said the decision was made to get Wade back into a rhythm at the team's training facilities.
Spoelstra warned not to read anything dire into the extended absence for Wade, who underwent shock-wave knee therapy in July, a process that generally takes six months for proper regeneration.
"What we try to do is not predetermine and have expectations about it," he said. "You can't predict it. You're going to have some good days and some days where you don't feel great."
(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services