No, this was nothing like the Miami Heat’s first championship celebration where they were beaten into submission via 42-point loss to the Chicago Bulls opening night 2006.
The Heat received their rings, watched their championship banner rise to the rafters and promptly went to business in the form of a 120-107 victory over the Boston Celtics. Tensions were high throughout, naturally expected because of the narrative surrounding Ray Allen and his departure from Boston over the summer. Before Ray came in the game, he and his former coaches embraced and he slapped Kevin Garnett on the shoulder, who ignored his former teammate.
Things got a little chippy near the end. With the game in hand, Dwyane Wade drove on Rajon Rondo, only to have the point guard wrap him from behind by his neck. Rondo let go and Wade appeared ready to throw the basketball at Rajon’s back, but resisted. Instead, the refs gave the frustrated Rondo a flagrant-foul that padded the Heat’s and Wade’s stats a little more.
Wade shook off a slow start, finishing with a game-high 29 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. The Heat needed every bit of it, as LeBron James checked out early in the fourth quarter with what has been said to be leg cramps. With James in the lockerroom, the Celtics chipped a 19-point Heat advantage down to three thanks in part to hot shooting by Leandro Barbosa and poor execution by the Heat.
When it came down to it, however, Wade, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh were there to keep the Celtics at bay and give the Heat a 1-0 start to the season. Bosh, especially, contributed in a big way down the stretch finishing the night with 19 points and 10 rebounds, including a layup over Kevin Garnett that turned a three-point lead into five with less than two minutes remaining. Miami held it down on defense one more time and avoided a colossal collapse.
It was only due to LeBron having to sit out. Had he been in, the Celtics probably wouldn’t have gotten within 15. James picked up exactly where he left off in the NBA Finals and the Olympics with a tremendous game that featured him dropping 26 points on 16 shots, 2-of-4 three-point shooting, ten rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers in 29 minutes.
Nobody was capable of guarding him, which wasn’t a surprise considering his defenders included Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and rookie Jared Sullinger. LeBron was getting near the rim at will, finishing alley-oops and dunking in traffic, posting-up with efficiency, and looking as confident as ever on his jumpers.
Look, if LeBron has a jumper now, then there’s no reason for the rest of the league to play. However, we should all take it with a grain of salt and remember it was only one game. The only thing holding me back from believing that is how comfortable James looked on each jumper he took. Either way, we’ll see how it plays out throughout the rest of the season.
The Heat lost the rebounding battle 41-36, but James and Bosh compensated for their team’s small lineup with 20 rebounds together. Rashard Lewis, who finished with ten points on 4-of-5 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and played well for someone who has been hurt the past two seasons. While not every game will be near the same as tonight’s, Lewis still made it clear that he still is the same guy that once nearly led the Orlando Magic to a championship.
The only difference is that he’s three years older and injuries have taken their toll.
Speaking of newcomers, that Ray Allen fellow certainly hasn’t lost a step. His first basket came off a corner three-pointer at the end of the shot-clock buzzer and he kept pouring it on to finish with 19 points on only seven shots in 30 minutes off the bench. Although Allen played some lengthy minutes, he showed no ill-effects of any nagging or lasting ailments and appeared to be comfortable in his new role.
He converted two three-pointers, the other being a banked in three at the shot-clock buzzer, and helped lead the Heat to 8-of-16 shooting from beyond the arc. James and Shane Battier also had two three-point makes, while Rashard Lewis and Norris Cole each finished with one.
The Heat allowed another superb game from Rajon Rondo, allowing the Heat-killer to end with 20 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds in 43 minutes. Once Rondo was able to penetrate the lane, the game became his. The Heat did a fair job at limiting Rondo, but still showed that he can go off against their point guards.
Paul Pierce led Boston in scoring with 23, despite shooting only 6-of-15. Barbos and his 16 points off the bench kept the Celtics’ hopes of a comeback alive in the fourth, but missed a wide-open three-pointer that could have cut the deficit in the final minute.
Miami played without Joel Anthony, who is still dealing with a hamstring injury.
The 1-0 Heat hit the road with a game against the New York Knicks awaiting this Friday. There has been no word yet on if the effects of Hurricane Sandy will play a role in a possible re-scheduling.