Fast Breaks: LeBron's new style, the ageless Allen, Rondo's big night
LeBron James tried to dribble less in the halfcourt, but results were mixed
Ray Allen, 35, hit the big shot for Boston and is still a key shooter
Rajon Rondo's 17 assists exceeded the Heat's total and proved to be crucial
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BOSTON -- The Heat looked like they hadn't left preseason during their 88-80 debut loss to the Eastern champs Tuesday. "Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0," said Dwyane Wade after his first full game since last postseason. "It just ain't happening."
1. The new LeBron. I kept track of James's dribbling in halfcourt situations (which did not include his numerous possessions in transition). James had 46 touches in Miami's halfcourt offense and yet I counted no more than 89 dribbles from him.
That's a remarkably small number for a two-time MVP who was known for pounding the ball in Cleveland and going one-on-one to create shots for himself or his Cavalier teammates. Now he was launching the new phase of his career by making quicker decisions and keeping the ball in circulation to Wade, Chris Bosh and others. James's intentions were good but the execution was poor -- he had a miserable assist-turnover ratio of 3-8 after repeatedly picking up his dribble too early.
"It's a feel-out process," said James. "When you have so many options it's something I'm not accustomed to -- having that many threats out on the court at the same time. It kind of reminded me (of) the USA (Basketball) practices. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) really had to get on us one day because we were being too unselfish because we had so many options. You'd have unforced turnovers."
Apart from the 13 minutes played by starter Carlos Arroyo, the bulk of the point-guard responsibilities fell to James, and most of his drives flowed out of transition as he brought the ball up. He was far less dynamic in the halfcourt, though he did try to post up a couple of times.
"Me and D-Wade had 14 turnovers between us," said James of their disappointing stat line. "A lot of them was (from) being too unselfish when we had an open look."
James led all scorers with 31 points on 21 shots, and he went to the foul line (8 of 12) more than anyone. Yet James blamed himself for not being more ambitious with the ball even as the Celtics made use of their length and depth in the frontcourt to clog up his driving lanes. "It felt like we were being too unselfish to get each other into the flow of the game," said James on behalf of Wade and Bosh. "The reason we're here and the reason we've been successful is because we've put ourselves in a position to be aggressive at all times no matter who's out on the court. In the third quarter I think D-Wade started to be more aggressive, I started to be more aggressive, even Chris started to be more aggressive."
Down by 19 in the first half, James led Miami back to within 66-61 early in the fourth. Then he sat down for 104 seconds, enabling the Celtics to respond with a 7-3 burst -- culminating in a Paul Pierce three -- to stretch their lead back out to 73-64 with 7:23 remaining. In spite of his turnovers, the lesson of this opener was that Miami will have to rely on James to make plays until Wade has recovered his rhythm after missing most of preseason with a strained hamstring.
2. Ray Allen still has it. The league's eldest relevant shooting guard at age 35, Allen played 39 minutes and led the Celtics with 20 points on 7 of 13 shooting, including the biggest score of the game. The Heat had come within 83-80 on a transition drive by James with 1:10 remaining, leaving fans in the TD Garden with little to say for the first time all night. Boston coach Doc Rivers had a simple message during the ensuing timeout: "If we make the next pass, the ball will find the open guy."
From the right corner Allen drove baseline and kicked out to Pierce at the top. There Pierce waited and waited -- not only for Miami to double-team him, but also for Allen to sprint from the basket to the left corner, where he spun to catch a return pass from Pierce and nail down a three before James could close out defensively.
"He had a shot, but it would have been contested," said Rivers of Pierce. "We always talk about no-hero ball. To me that was a hero pass in a great way. He didn't have to make that pass, but he made the right decision."
Which was not to take for granted the finishing of Allen, who converted 5 of his 8 threes. "You've got a guy that can take that kind of pressure off you," said Pierce of Allen. "It's an amazing feeling."
3. What does it mean? The Heat drew strength from being able to recover a 9-point first quarter and an opening half in which they shot 26.8 percent. Wade (4 of 16 for 13 points and 6 turnovers) was out of sorts after being sidelined for most of preseason, and Bosh (3 of 11 for 8 points including a scant two free throws) wasn't relevant. Yet Miami created 20 Celtic turnovers to turn it into a one-possession game in the final two minutes.
"At least that's a grind-out mentality that you need in this league," Spoelstra said.
Rivers had no doubt that Miami will improve from this disappointment. "Hopefully we will too," he added.
4. Rajon Rondo was the opening night MVP. The Celtic point guard was 2 of 9 from the floor for 4 points, but his 17 assists were more than the 15 created by Miami's roster altogether. The Celtics were the more cohesive team -- no surprise after Miami's free-agent summer -- and spread the floor to provide Rondo with probing lanes from which he found teammates all around the floor. "He was spectacular," said Rivers of Rondo, who helped introduce Shaquille O'Neal (9 points and 7 rebounds) into Boston's offense.
A question for later this season is whether Miami will become fluent enough offensively to create mismatches against Rondo by going with a big lineup featuring James at point guard.
5. The opening night mood. The Miami hype contributed to ticket demand that rivalled (and possibly exceeded) that of the NBA Finals last June. The sellout crowd made the building feel like a crucial playoff game was underway, even if the players weren't able to achieve that level of play so early in the season.
With 3:20 left and the Celtics up 83-72 the Boston fans began a chant of "Overrated!" only to see Wade strip Garnett from behind to put a stop to that talk. The chanting picked up again in the final half-minute.
Will the Celtics suffer an emotional letdown over the next few days after rising to meet the challenge of Miami? Not likely, insisted Kevin Garnett (10 points, 10 rebounds and 7 turnovers). "To us it's about getting better and defending homecourt," he said. "We have a lot of room to get better."