A big 3
Allen shot helps Celtics send a chill into reloaded Heat
He walked up the staircase to the postgame interview table seemingly more relieved because the game was over than because his team had won it.
Ray Allen drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with 49.8 seconds left to give the Celtics an 86-80 lead, helping to slam the door on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade after their new-look Miami Heat had eaten into much of a lead the Celtics had piled as high as 19 points.
Paul Pierce then hit a pair of free throws to seal Boston’s 88-80 season-opening win last night. And thus the Celtics were able to pull the plug on the hype machine for a night at least.
But Celtics coach Doc Rivers was still amazed by the magnitude of going against the new Big Three of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh.
He went to face the media, and there were reporters sitting in front of him three rows deep. He sat down and stared directly into the dozen or so cameras behind them, the media all situated somewhat like they were the last time he saw them all, at last season’s Finals.
But this was just Game 1.
Of the regular season.
“Wow,’’ Rivers said. “I guess this was a big game.’’
Dressed in their finest suits, Pierce and Kevin Garnett made the same walk, talking among themselves about the atmosphere.
Garnett asked Pierce, “Are we in the Finals already?’’
The helium had been pumping into this balloon practically all summer. The Celtics had their own story line from the time they lost Game 7 to the Lakers in June, the first episode in their minidrama about possibly breaking up their core, or reuniting for one more run.
Then came “The Decision,’’ James’s hour-long soap-opera-worthy performance in which he announced he would form a mega-union with Wade and Bosh on the Heat. Then the schedule came out, making the battle of the Big Threes the marquee matchup.
In the end, cohesion won out.
For all their new toys, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra looked like he was still reading the instruction manual for them.
Three times the Celtics made quick jumps ahead in the first half, and each time Spoelstra called time to stop the hemorrhaging only to see it get worse. Rajon Rondo (17 assists; Miami had just 15 as a team) was making sparkling reads. Shaquille O’Neal (9 points, seven rebounds) was running the floor and finishing at the rim. The bench was feasting (26 points, led by Glen Davis’s 13).
Meanwhile, the Heat’s stars were crossed. Bosh (8 points on 3-of-11 shooting) was almost invisible. After sitting out all but three minutes of Miami’s eight exhibitions, Wade (13 points on 4-of-16 shooting) called it “my first preseason game.’’
“What I told the team was that it was going to be a process with this,’’ Spoelstra said. “I know there are a lot of expectations and there’s a lot of pressure out there but we have our own timetable.’’
Pierce finished with 19 points, drilling three fourth-quarter threes after colliding with James in the paint and having to leave the game in the third quarter.
The Celtics turned the ball over 18 times and missed nine of their 25 free throws, but for the most part they seemed synchronized. Their signature defense was still their foundation. They held the Heat to 26.8 percent shooting in the first half, answering the questions about how they’d defend three stars of that caliber all at once.
“Paul had his hands full, I had my hands full, Ray Allen had his hands full,’’ Garnett said. “Those three are going to be a force to be reckoned with. We know that. But it’s not one, two, three individuals that make a team.’’
The Celtics squandered their huge lead in the third quarter largely by missing free throws (2 of 8 in the quarter) and letting James take over (he scored 15 of his 31 points in the frame). The Heat cut the Celtics’ lead to 83-78 on a 3-pointer from Wade with 1:28 left, then to 3 when James drove and made a layup. But coming out of a timeout, Pierce found Allen for the clincher.
The Celtics have won every season opener since they assembled the Big Three. Three of them now have come against James. And even though the game seemed larger than life going in, they now can go on with the rest of their schedule. And when they meet Miami the next time, Rivers said he’s sure the Heat will be a different team than they were last night.
“It was a big game, it was a fun game. [Now] we play Cleveland,’’ Rivers said. “[Miami’s] going to be a lot better when we see them again, and hopefully we are as well.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.