The last time LeBron James was in this building, he couldn't wait to get out the door.
His Cleveland Cavaliers had just been eliminated by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and James -- who had ripped off his jersey while leaving the court -- sat in the postgame press conference and began the torturous cycle of speculation on his whereabouts for the following season.
The debut of Miami's Big Three tonight looked more like a reunion of the 2008-2009 Cavaliers. With Dwyane Wade (hamstring) hobbling through an ineffective 36 minutes, James took over, carrying the Heat on his back with 15 points in the third quarter (31 overall). James was at his dominant best in the quarter but struggled (8 turnovers) to keep his team involved throughout the entire game. On this night, anyways, Miami's game plan seemed to be to get out of the way and let James do his thing.
"It's a feel-out process," James said after the game. "I'm not accustomed to having that many threats out on the court at the same time. It kind of reminded me at times, of the USA practices. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] really had to get on us one day because we were being too unselfish because we had so many options."
The veteran Celtics took advantage of a Miami team that looked like it was -- and was -- playing it's first regular season game together, beating the Heat 88-80 Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Ray Allen hit the biggest shot of the game for the Celtics, getting free in the corner for a three-pointer that put the Celtics up 86-80 with 49 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Wade got the ball on the next Heat possession, but he was guarded well by Allen and missed. It was the final attempt for James' supporting cast to come up with a big shot, and Wade fell short.
"Ray's one of the greatest players ever to play the game," said Shaquille O'Neal, who finished the game with 9 points and 7 rebounds. "Doc drew up a play. It's a play that we practice all the time. That was one of our options, and Ray Allen just did what he does."
Allen paced the Celtics at halftime with 11 points, while the Celtics defense held Miami to 27-percent shooting in the half. Through two quarters the Heat had almost as many turnovers (9) as field goals (11). The Heat made a run in the third quarter thanks to 4-of-7 shooting by James, closing the lead to 63-57 after three.
Paul Pierce, who went to the bench at the end of the third quarter with a bruised back, came back just over a minute into the fourth. Pierce scored 11 points in the final frame, keeping the Celtics safely ahead. Allen led the Celtics with 20 points, followed by Pierce with 19. Rajon Rondo had 17 assists for Boston.
"He's the perfect point guard," O'Neal said of Rondo.
The Celtics, who won their last three home openers by an average of 19 points over the Wizards, Bobcats, and Cavaliers, start another season off on a good note. They'll face the Cavs tomorrow night in Cleveland before returning home to face the Knicks on Friday.
FINAL, Celtics 88-80:Wade's three-pointer from the corner is off line, and the Celtics take care of business in the final minute.
0:49 4th quarter, Celtics 86-80: Ray Allen gets free in the corner and nails a clutch three-pointer over James, who was trying to close out. Big shot from Ray, who seems to make a habit of making that very shot in these situations.
1:15 4th quarter, Celtics 83-80: A 10-0 run by the Heat has made this a nailbiter.
2:48 4th quarter, Celtics 83-72: Paul Pierce has 11 points in the fourth to help the Celtics maintain the lead.
7:23 4th quarter, Celtics 73-64: Miami had cut the lead to four, but a lay-up by Glen Davis and a three-pointer by Paul Pierce have the Celtics up nine and the crowd back into this game.
Pierce's mobility will be crucial in this final stretch. James has been the only effective member of Miami's Big Three so far tonight. He'll need to carry his team with a struggling Dwyane Wade not at his best.
10:48 4th quarter, Celtics 64-57: Pierce (bruised back) checks back into the game and promptly grabs a rebound. The Celtics need him for this final stretch.
10:53 4th quarter, Celtics 64-57:Paul Pierce starts the fourth quarter on the Celtics bench. Marquis Danuels replaces him in the lineup. Can he slow down LeBron?
END 3d quarter, Celtics 63-57:This is going to be fun. The Heat have cut it to single digits despite shooting 35 percent for the game with 14 turnovers.
It's becoming the LeBron James show. James has 25 points in the game, 15 in the third quarter.
4:21 3d quarter, Celtics 58-45: Ray Allen hits a much-needed three as the lead goes down to 10 points. Despite how poorly the Heat have played they're still in this game.
Paul Pierce just went and collapsed on the Celtics bench during the timeout. Pierce took a hard fall at the 4:32 mark after a collision with LeBron James. Pierce just went back to the locker room to get checked out.
8:37 3d quarter, Celtics 51-34: LeBron James tries to find a cutting Dwyane Wade, but Wade's cut was ill-timed and the ball went out of bounds. These two will have plenty of chances to work out plays like this, but it's not there yet.
The Celtics are severely out-playing the Heat right now. Erik Spoelstra said before the game that Miami would be running a few, limited offensive sets, and so far it shows. I wouldn't be surprised if the Miami coach diagrams a few more plays in the locker room to get his team going.
This is, of course, the NBA, so expect the Heat to make a run. But right now, the Celtics look like a team that has been playing together for years (they are). And the Heat look like they've never played a game together (they haven't.)
2:13 2d quarter, Celtics 39-22: The Heat are 5 of 20 from the field this quarter after scoring nine points in the first.
6:36 2d quarter, Celtics 31-15: Nate Robinson breaks out for a dunk as the Celtics open up their largest lead. Careless passing is killing the Heat. Miami has 8 turnovers and just 6 field goals. Wade's already turned it over 5 times.
A note on the Celtics' early rotation: Shaq started the game and played 6:36 in the first quarter. He was relieved by Glen Davis, who has put in 11:55. This should be pretty typical for the Celtics, with Davis likely to see about twice as many overall minutes as O'Neal despite O'Neal starting.
END 1st quarter, Celtics 16-9: Nine. Just nine points for the Heat in the first quarter. The Celtics are playing exceptional team defense to this point. The Heat are 4 of 17, and while the Celtics are only shooting 35 percent, they've got to be happy with the overall effort. They've got 7 assists on their 7 field goals, while the Heat have 2 assists on their 4.
5:34 1st quarter, Celtics 11-6: Rajon Rondo has 4 assists already. He just found Ray Allen for an easy lay-up on the baseline. The Celtics are playing well as a unit, both in transition and in the halfcourt. The Heat, meanwhile, are doing a lot of standing around and watching Dwyane Wade and LeBron James work.
7:24 1st quarter, Celtics 7-4: The Celtics are making an effort to go to Shaquille O'Neal early. He's blown a couple of bunnies, but the big fella benefited from a drive by Rajon Rondo, throwing down a Rondo lob when Joel Anthony came over to help.
Pregame Video montage just finished. Theme is "All About 18". There was a huge ovation when the video referred to old friends and a picture of Delonte West was shown.
The Boston Pops deliver the anthem. Pretty hard to top that.
Carlos Arroyo is starting at point guard for the Heat, while Dwyane Wade starts the game at shooting guard.