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James on fire at start

He sets the tone in Game 1 victory

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 29, 2012
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MIAMI - As the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter, the score was LeBron James 13, Celtics 11. The Miami star had been the difference, had been the key, as the Heat jumped out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter, toying with a Celtics team that looked tired, out of sorts, unprepared to handle the opposition. James was setting the tone, as he knew he needed to, as his team had essentially begged of him. While coach Erik Spoelstra had said that he didn’t exactly need James and Dwyane Wade to score 70 points every night against Boston, he needed them to be good - to be really good.

James, with an assist from Wade, was certainly that, if not quite as sublime as he has been at times during this postseason, as the Heat beat the Celtics, 93-79, on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

As Spoelstra had said of James on Sunday, “He loves the challenge. That’s what makes him special.’’

That, and his ability to score, defend, find loose balls - to do just about everything the Heat need, especially in conjunction with Wade.

“You’re not going to take everything away from them,’’ coach Doc Rivers said of the Heat. “They have two sensational players. But we gave them both [the stars and the role players free rein] tonight. We let Wade, we let LeBron play in extreme comfort, and we gave the other guys everything they wanted as well.’’

Though James cooled a bit later in the game, he reminded the Celtics just how good the Heat can be, even without injured forward Chris Bosh.

Not that it should be a surprise. In the last three games of the series against the Pacers - all three Heat wins - James averaged 32.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8 assists, numbers roughly equaled by Wade. Though he slumped just a bit in the assists department, with three, James at least matched his other numbers (32 points, 13 rebounds), and teamed with Wade for 54 of the Heat’s 93 points on a combined 60 percent shooting. Wade added seven assists.

James was everything he was supposed to be in the Eastern Conference finals, really, leading his team to a statement win in the opening game. As Spoelstra said as he sat down at the postgame conference, “One down.’’

In getting the win, James and his team served notice that this squad is different than the teams the Celtics have previously faced. More skilled, more ready, more James, more Wade.

Part of that was the play of the Heat’s stars. Part of that, at least in the minds of the Celtics, was a lack of defensive pressure on their part. They didn’t do enough.

“[We didn’t] shrink the floor,’’ Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said. “We’ve got to make those guys play outside the paint. They got where they wanted to . . . Nothing dirty, but they have to hit the deck, too.’’

That might happen. It might not. Given the run that James and Wade are on, it will be hard for the Celtics to alter their rhythm.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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