The super-deep Celtics team that is supposed to create
matchup problems and push the Miami Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy never
showed up. If this was the best the Celtics have to throw at the defending
champions, then the team in green is in trouble.
This is not the final product for the Celtics, however, and
one uneven night in October will not doom their season on game No. 1 out of 82.
Still, though the Celtics should not be disallowed from the
NBA Finals conversation after one loss, the Heat's strong bench production in
their 120-107 win on Tuesday assured that the story will not be as simple as Miami's
stars versus Boston's depth. The supposedly top-heavy Heat looked plenty
balanced when Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis capitalized on holes in the Celtics
defense to the tune of 29 combined points. The Celtics' bench, meanwhile, was
conspicuously absent until a too-late 16-point flurry by Leandro Barbosa.
"You can see that they've played together a little
longer than us," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought our
continuity offensively was better. We made plays offensively, but it wasn't
good offense. It's funny, we shot 52 percent and scored 107 points and I didn't
think we were very good offensively at all. I thought we had no continuity
offensively, and that hurt us on the other end. The bad shots, the forced
turnovers got them out on the break."
On paper, the Celtics' backups were only outscored 31-29 by
their counterparts, but Boston received only 11 combined points from Jason
Terry and Jeff Green, who are slated to be the bulwarks of the Celtics bench. It
said a lot that the most productive reserve for Boston was Barbosa, the late
pickup who was signed for the veteran's minimum as an afterthought mere days
before the final preseason game. For all Danny Ainge's careful planning,
sometimes the guy who turns out to make the biggest difference is the one who
was never in the initial plan. Ask P.J. Brown about that.
Pat Riley, the team president of the Heat, clearly had a
plan for last offseason and it was to add shooters around his core of LeBron
James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, like many coaches
across the NBA, evidently has abandoned all hope of having a true post game.
Instead the Heat will rely on James' do-everything skills on the block, on the
wing and at the point, and on Bosh's deadly pick-and-pop game.
For all of that to work, though, Miami needs to hit shots.
They did not do so consistently last year, no matter how your memory may lie to you as a
result of a couple of hot shooting nights by Shane Battier and Mike Miller. The
Heat were 10th in 3-point field goal percentage and 20th in 3-pointers made per
game last season, figures that may have been enough to worry clubs like the
Wizards and Cavaliers but did not strike fear into the Celtics or Thunder. If
not for herculean performances by James or Miller's sudden revival, last year's
conference finals and beyond might have gone very differently.
The one thing Allen and Lewis have proved they can do is hit
shots. Allen hit 45 percent from downtown last season and Lewis is a career 39
percent shooter from deep, although his last two seasons have been marred by
injuries. If both Allen and Lewis stay healthy, the Heat have two shooters who
are unlikely to disappear for long stretches like Battier, Miller or James
Jones, spreading the floor and making James, Wade and Bosh virtually
Yet even with two of those three off the floor, the Heat
still extended their lead in the third quarter. Rivers called it "the
biggest stretch of the game," and it was. It was also the most eye-opening
for those who heard the Celtics' oft-repeated lines about depth in the
preseason. With Wade on the bench and James in the locker room with leg cramps, the Heat turned an 81-73 lead into a
93-76 game, nixing any realistic chance of a Boston comeback even with James playing only three minutes of the fourth quarter.
Rivers said that working all the new pieces on the roster
into a cohesive whole would take time. He mentioned that after the game,
although the result was not what he had in mind.
"We should still win games," Rivers said.
"It's going to take time, I said that before the season, but I don't mean
taking time and losing games. I mean win games, win ugly at times. Again, I
look at the numbers — 107 points, 52 percent — but I know as a coach our
continuity was horrendous. We never got to the second or third option. It
wasn't because of their defense. We didn't allow ourselves to. We didn't trust
it. We broke it down a lot. That's going to take time."
When Rivers had four All-Stars who had been playing together
for several years, it was easier for him to get his players to "trust
it." Not only is one of those All-Stars now gone, but pretty much every
relevant player replacing him was not part of the team a year ago. The Celtics'
depth still could be their greatest weapon, but this loss raised the
possibility that the Heat's depth could be one of their greatest weapons as