MIAMI - Celtics opponents are repeatedly told not to leave Ray Allen open. They are told by their coaches and teammates in pregame talks, and often receive reminders from the Celtics' bench jockeys, whose oft-used line, "Don't leave Ray Allen," is delivered in incredulous tones after Allen has been left unguarded for a shot.
But the Celtics' attack in a 98-83 victory over the Heat last night highlighted just how difficult it can be for foes to pick their poison.
First, Allen lit up the Heat for 14 points as the Celtics took a 29-10 first-quarter lead. Then Eddie House went for 20 points in the second quarter. Miami's game plan to double-team Kevin Garnett in the low post was exposed as Allen (27 points) and House (25) found the range on the perimeter, Paul Pierce (14) provided the midrange threat, Rajon Rondo penetrated, and Garnett (16 points, 13 rebounds) matched his scoring average and also got a long break in the second half in preparation for tonight's visit to Orlando.
"They made a choice and we made shots," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Actually, I thought the choice was right, because they were going to front and back Kevin and try to take his post away. They caught us on a night where we actually shot the ball well."
Kendrick Perkins (2 points) returned for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury Jan. 9, but there was little action inside. Allen and House conducted a shooting clinic as the Celtics converted a season-high 15 3-pointers - they were 13 for 25 in an overtime win at Indiana Dec. 7.
The Celtics (35-9) took a 16-4 lead in the opening 5:13, continuing a trend of fast starts during their six-game winning streak - they took an 18-2 lead over New Jersey on the way to a 105-85 victory last Saturday and a 21-7 lead over Phoenix in a 104-87 win Monday.
"You can't defend everything," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They've got a lot of weapons. We have a system that we put in place. The guys know it, and we spent months developing it. We've been playing it well, too, and we actually had an extra day to prepare. But, for whatever reason, our minds were not right."
Even when the Celtics let up, allowing Miami (22-19) to cut the deficit to 12 points in the second quarter, then to 11 in the final quarter, Allen and House were there to stretch things.
"I think we are playing well, especially coming out of the gates," Rivers said. "The second quarter almost made me sick, because we gave up 19 points in the first six minutes. We believe that if we get stops, then we'll score. I like our team focus right now and I like the way everybody is playing for each other."
In the second quarter, House was 6 for 8 on 3-pointers, matching the team record for the most in a quarter set by Dee Brown, who went 6 for 7 in a 110-99 win over Dallas Feb. 4, 1998.
"Teams have been doubling KG all year," Allen said. "The game is about making adjustments, and we knew where to put our shooters. Eddie's a scorer. He knows how to get to spots, he knows how to read a defense. This year is the year I am going to politick for him for the 3-point contest [during the All-Star break next month in Phoenix]. I think people know he's one of the best 3-point shooters."
Miami, which lost Shawn Marion (groin) early in the game, went to a full-court pressing defense in the second half and cut the deficit to 11 on Daequan Cook's 3-pointer with 5:30 to go. But Garnett's 18-footer (with :01 on the shot clock) and three Allen 3-pointers made it 98-76 with 3:27 remaining. Dwyane Wade (25 points) scored 12 as the Heat outscored the Celtics, 30-21, in the third quarter, but was held to one field goal in the final quarter.
"I thought we did a good job of just clogging up the paint," Rivers said of defending Wade. "He's just so difficult to guard. What we didn't want him to do is get both - he has the ability to score and get everyone else involved. We wanted to make him shoot over the top of us - our whole game plan was to get back to everybody else."
Next up are the Magic, who have the NBA's best record.
"It was definitely good to get that win right before we go in there," Pierce said. "We're playing really well right now, and hopefully, it will carry over."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.