Credit can be passed around
It took a roster to bring down the mighty Miami Heat.
It took a Rondo, it took a Garnett, it took an O’Neal (Shaquille), it took a Pierce, it took a Daniels, it took a Davis, and, with the game hanging in the balance — and losing this would have been a catastrophe — it took an Allen with a typically nerveless and artful game-clinching 3-pointer. Anything less from any of those people, and last night’s game would have gone the other way.
This was the most hyped and anticipated opening-night game in the league’s 65-year history. Everyone with an interest in the sport of professional basketball wanted to see the mighty Miami Heat, the team with the latest Big Three, the team that was going to re-glamorize the NBA, and never mind the fact we have a two-time defending champion located in the glamour capital of the US of A.
But if the nation, the world, the uni verse, the galaxy, whatever, tuned in to see the mighty Miami Heat, they were re-introduced to the reality of the Boston Celtics, who have won a championship and have had two legitimate shots at others in the past three years, and who certainly look to be new and improved this season. The mighty Miami Heat could have been given a much easier opening-night foe than the Celtics’ squad that handed them an 88-80 loss to ensure they will not go 82-0.
No grand conclusions should be drawn from the performance of the Heat. They already have lost the player who was going to be their certified sixth man when Mike Miller sustained a thumb injury last week that could put him out of action for at least three months. And last night was the first action of any kind for Dwyane Wade, who has been idled by a combination of injury and the need to attend court proceedings in a contentious child custody suit.
The guy who wore No. 3 and shot 4 for 16 last night? That wasn’t the real Dwyane Wade. It wasn’t even a weak preview of coming attractions.
“I don’t know if he’s healthy or not,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “You don’t miss as much as he’s missed and have rhythm. He’ll get better. They’ll get better.’’
The mighty Miami Heat really had no business being in this game, which ought to tell you something about what they might become. They came out of the chute with 9 first-quarter points, the result of good Celtics defense and one of those shooting nights that happen every once in a while. It took the Heat 16 minutes to score 13 points, 20 minutes to score 20 points, and 28 minutes to score 35.
But you know how it is in the NBA, with its enormous ebb and flow. You hang in, get a few stops, find somebody to make a few shots (in this case Eddie House and James Jones), wait until one of your stars goes off (in this case LeBron James, who had 15 of his 31 in the third quarter), and if you’re lucky, you find yourself down by just 3 (83-80) with 1:10 to go.
And if you’re the Celtics, you’re thinking, “What just happened?’’
That’s because so much had gone right. Weren’t they up by as many as 19 (53-34)? Hadn’t Rajon Rondo (17 assists) penetrated at will and gone in and out to find open men? Hadn’t Shaq given them exactly what they asked for with his 9 points, 7 rebounds, and the taking up of very useful space? Hadn’t Kevin Garnett plugged away for 10 points, 10 rebounds, and good defense on Chris Bosh (3 for 11)? Hadn’t Paul Pierce come back from a back bruise and a third-quarter trip to the locker room to nail a couple of killer threes and grab some rebounds? Hadn’t Marquis Daniels given them 8 points on 4-for-5 shooting? Hadn’t Glen Davis shot 6 for 7 in a valuable 13-point performance?
That was all true, every bit of it, but it wasn’t enough to guarantee a happy trip home for the raucous gathering of 18,624, each of whom went away with a new green T-shirt. The Celtics needed one more big play.
So, at 83-80, the Celtics went into action, the ball winding up in Pierce’s hands out front. He could have shot it, as he’s done so many times before. But he chose instead to give it to Ray Allen, who was lurking in the deep left corner. And Ray Allen did what Ray Allen does. He drilled a monster three. Wade missed from the corner at the other end, and that was that.
“We drew up a play out of the timeout,’’ Rivers said, “and the thing we said was if it’s not there, it won’t be there because they have to rotate. If we make the extra pass, the ball will find the open guy. We always talk about no-hero ball, and to me that was a hero pass in a great way.’’
“A fun game,’’ added Rivers.
“I just said to Paul as we were coming in here [to the interview room], I said, ‘Are we in the Finals already?’ ’’ joked Garnett. “You know? But it did have a lot of hype to it.’’
The game was a reminder that this Celtics core group is now in its fourth year together, and they can play this game without the Cliffs notes. Someday, the mighty Miami Heat will make that play. Right now they’re trying to become a team. The Boston Celtics already are.
Eighty-one to go. And then the season starts for real.