Heat look ready to defend title with solid win over Celtics in opener
Miami received its rings then played like champs in a 120-107 win over Boston
Before leaving with cramps, LeBron James (26 points, 10 rebounds) dominated
Ray Allen (19 points) torched his old team, which is still finding its new identity
Miami looked ready to defend its championship during a 120-107 opening night win against the visiting Celtics on Tuesday.
1. LeBron James picked up where he left off. He was every bit the same player who dominated the NBA Finals last June, right down to the leg cramps. The ailment kept James sidelined for all but 10 minutes of the second half, but not before the reigning MVP contributed 26 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers to help the Heat build a 19-point advantage early in the fourth quarter.
The recently acquired Leandro Barbosa made his Celtic debut by scoring all 16 of his points (6-of-8 shooting) in the fourth to pull Boston within four with 2:09 left -- a run that affirmed LeBron's dominance, since it took place while he was in the locker room receiving treatment for his cramping. The Celtics were unable to establish Kevin Garnett (Nine points, five turnovers in 32 minutes) down low as they failed to exploit their size advantage in the middle. As the game progressed, Boston chose to go small and try and matchup with fast-paced Miami.
The evening began with James receiving his first championship ring from NBA Commissioner David Stern and Miami owner Micky Arison. The extended ceremony didn't distract James in the least as he and his teammates shot 56.7 percent through the first three quarters. Miami instantly developed the kind of balance it will be attempt to sustain all year long -- 29 points from Dwyane Wade, 19 each for Chris Bosh (10 rebounds) and Ray Allen, 11 assists for Mario Chalmers and a highly promising 10 points from Rashard Lewis as he attempts to recover from years of injury.
All of these strengths manifested around James, who at 27, is in his prime in terms of understanding, athleticism and confidence. As long as he stays hydrated, he looks like the runaway favorite to win his fourth MVP in five years.
2. Ray Allen: new uniform, same impact. The Celtics felt betrayed by Allen's decision to sign with rival Miami for less money than he had been offered to remain with Boston, and Garnett -- resting stoically on the bench -- refused to acknowledge his former teammate when Allen jogged over as he entered the game in the first quarter.
Boston coach Doc Rivers and a few teammates greeted Allen more warmly, but none of it seemed to have any impact one way or the other. Allen scored a typical 19 points on 7 shots, including two 3-pointers in 31 minutes. He outperformed his replacement in Boston, Jason Terry, who went 2 of 7 (0 of 3 beyond the arc) in 25 minutes.
Allen's first attempt for Miami was a corner three that he drilled it successfully in front of his new team's bench. His new fans in Miami derided the Celtics by chanting, "We got Ray!'' If the ball moves all season as fluidly as it did on opening night, then Allen will have no trouble swishing open shots in the company of so much talent.
3. Continuity favors the Heat. Miami generated more assists (25 to 24) than Boston, an unusual advantage underscoring the fact that the Heat's rotation has been together longer than Boston's. Over the preceding two years Rajon Rondo has been the dominant playmaker of this rivalry, but on this night he was playing catch-up in spite of his terrific numbers (20 points, 13 assists, 7 rebounds). Rondo grew frustrated in the fourth quarter while earning a technical foul and committing a flagrant foul.
The Celtics were relying on five players who were not involved in Boston's conference final loss to Miami last season, and their uncertainty was most noticeable at the defensive end. The Celtics weren't able to apply any pressure to Miami -- Wade was the only Heat player with more than one turnover.
4. Wade looked strong. He struggled to create his own shot for much of the playoffs last season and underwent knee surgery over the summer. Wade then took time off during training camp, but he looked as aggressive as ever while going 10 for 22 (which amounted to six more attempts than anyone else Tuesday) with a game-high 11 free throw attempts in 35 minutes. No Heat star will benefit more from fluid ball movement than Wade, because he won't have to work so hard off the dribble to generate open shots.
5. The Celtics' new style. They've promised to be more explosive in transition this year -- and they wasted no time pushing that agenda while outscoring Miami by a surprising 27-12 on fast breaks. It helped that Boston outrebounded its hosts 41-36, in part thanks to power forward Brandon Bass's declared emphasis on rebounding this season. Bass had six offensive boards and 11 boards overall, an output that will help keep him in the starting lineup ahead of rookie Jared Sullinger, whose strength is also rebounding.