Game over, Heat win 120-107: With LeBron James absent for all but three minutes in the fourth quarter, the Celtics surged back and made a sure blowout interesting in the final minutes. Last-minute pickup Leandro Barbosa was the main player in that, scoring 16 points in the final frame, but the Heat were too strong even without the reigning league MVP.
James finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds in a little over three quarters of work, trailing Dwyane Wade's 29 points for the team lead. Ray Allen played more than 30 minutes and scored 19 points, easily outdoing his supposed replacement, Jason Terry, who shot 2-for-7 from the field.
Rajon Rondo had 20 points and 13 assists but never seemed in control of the game as he often does. Paul Pierce worked his way to a team-high 23 points against James' tough defense.
The bright spot for the Celtics is, this is only game No. 1 of what they hope to be almost 100. They are 0-1.
Fourth quarter, 1:15, Heat 115-107: If there were ever any question about how good and how important James is to the Heat, this fourth quarter answered it.
With James out for most of the quarter, the Celtics turned a 17-point deficit into as little as four points. The Celtics could run out of time, but the Heat may be the most worried. They looked completely vulnerable without their MVP.
Fourth quarter, 4:03, Heat 109-101: If they gave out a game ball for NBA games (they don't), then Barbosa would deserve it for this one if the Celtics came back to win. The swift reserve guard hit his first five shots and quickly pulled the Celtics back within a manageable distance of Miami. A three-point play by Garnett made it an eight point game, but to underscore just how uneven the Celtics played thus far, the free throw was only Garnett's seventh point.
Fourth quarter, 7:57, Heat 100-89: For all the changes the Celtics talked about making this season, their defense was one thing that figured to stay the same. As long as Garnett was back there calling out screens, the Celtics could never be too bad.
Well, that was the way it seemed. Garnett and the rest of the Celtics have been missing in action for much of the game, allowing 31 points in each of the first three quarters. They tried a mega-small lineup of Barbosa, Rondo, Terry, Green and Garnett, and that succeeded by cutting the deficit to 11 points.
The Celtics still had time to make a push, but it would have to start on the defensive end. They had not given much reason to believe that was possible in this game.
Fourth quarter, 9:01, Heat 100-85: Before he signed with the Celtics, Barbosa was told bluntly by Rivers that there was not room for him in the backcourt rotation. Barbosa told Rivers he understood, but early in the fourth quarter he did not play like it.
He played like a man who wants to show his coach he deserves a job in the rotation.
With James in the locker room with an undisclosed health issue, Barbosa scored nine quick points by hitting the first three shots he took, including two 3-pointers. His outburst did not make much difference on the scoreboard, though. The Celtics continued to trail by double-digits thanks to their carelessness with the ball, as they reached 15 turnovers early in the fourth quarter.
End of third quarter, Heat 93-76: Deep, meet deeper.
The defending champs were billed as top-heavy, while the Celtics were supposed to be the balanced, deep squad with a shot to unseat the Heat. Through three quarters in Miami, the Celtics indeed looked deep. But the Heat's eight-man rotation looked far, far better.
The Heat's depth was so good, they were able to extend their lead in the third quarter with a lineup that included Rashard Lewis and Allen as the first or second options. Chalmers ran the show and Bosh provided an easy post bucket when necessary.
Third quarter, 4:40, Heat 79-70: Tempers were starting to flare in the third. Chalmers did not appreciate a hard foul by Garnett on the break. Then Bosh disagreed with Terry going for a hard swipe at the ball as Bosh called a timeout.
This may be merely the first game of a long year, but the hard feelings of last year's conference finals have not worn off.
Third quarter, 6:31, Heat 77-67: Even with some funky lineup combinations, the Celtics were the victims of matchup problems all over the floor. When the Heat did not have a favorable matchup, they killed the Celtics with off-ball screens and movement. Wade using a foul line screen to cut unabated to the hoop, then catching a pass from James for an easy layup, was a perfect example.
The Heat clearly still looked strong and had an extra confidence thanks to their championship experience.
Halftime, Heat lead 62-54: Celtics fans may hate to admit it, but this Allen guy can still play a little bit.
Old No. 20 (and Even Older No. 34 and Now No. 34 Again) shot 3-for-5 from the field and 5-for-6 from the foul line in the first half, tying Wade for the second-most points on the team. (James led the way, as usual, with 16 points while grabbing nine rebounds.)
Pierce matched James' scoring output but was nowhere near as dominant. Pierce also did not have the punctuation moment of the first half, which was provided by James via a we-probably-should-cover-that-guy streaking dunk right down the middle of the lane.
Second quarter, 2:18, Heat 57-50: Everybody knows the Heat are good. They did not win last year's title by accident — or by the grace of the officials, as many fans might argue. But when they get lucky as well as good, the Heat are even tougher to beat.
It started with a leaning three off the glass by Allen and continued with a twisting and-one baby jumper by James. There was plenty of time left in this game, but if Miami was destined to hit shots like that, it was going to be a long night for the Celtics.
Second quarter, 6:41, Heat 43-42: Terry is more than a shooter and a bad defender. "The Jet" is also a severely underrated ballhandler, especially out of the pick and roll. So Rivers gave Terry the ball and threw not one, but two screens at his defender and let the 35-year-old sixth man go to work.
Terry careened off the staggered screen by Garnett and Sullinger and dribbled to the hoop for an and-one layup that helped spark an 11-2 run that put the Celtics back into the game. For now, at least, the Celtics found an ideal lineup combination of Pierce, Rondo, Green, Terry and Garnett, who was later replaced by Bass.
Second quarter, 9:20, Heat 40-31: The vaunted Boston bench did not look so hot in the early moments of the second quarter. Leandro Barbosa was a surprise second-quarter starter and there was a clear lack of comfort between Barbosa, Terry, Green and the rest of the Celtics. With Wade and Allen as the only real impact players on the floor, the Heat were able to extend their lead thanks to three hideous turnovers by Terry.
Terry was not the only turnover culprit, though. Garnett committed three as the Celtics fumbled away the ball nine times as a team, made even worse by their failure to get to the free throw line. (The Heat were 8-for-8 from the stripe compared to the Celtics' 2-for-3, none of which came in the first quarter.)
The Celtics have tons of talent on their bench, but it may take a while for them to learn to play together.
End of first quarter, Heat 31-25: Celtics fans had seen this before. Allen snuck into the corner as his teammate dribbled along the baseline, losing his defender in the process. Only this time, Allen was doing the damage against the Celtics.
Showing off one of the nagging criticisms about Jason Terry — that he tends to fall asleep on defense off the ball — Allen capitalized on Terry's snoozing and received the ball almost behind the basket in the corner, beyond the 3-point line.
Jeff Green and, of course, Terry also made their debuts with their new teams, but both finished the first quarter scoreless in limited minutes.
First quarter, 2:45, Heat 22-21: Bass and Jared Sullinger proved during the preseason that they did not have to be an either-or pairing. Both power forwards can play together and give Boston a strong rebounding and shooting combination in the frontcourt. There are downsides to having the tallest players in the lineup be 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8, though. Neither big man was able to protect the paint on help defense or reach the extension of Bosh on either end of the court.
The result was a few highlight-reel plays for Miami, including an alley-oop finish by Wade that showed off the Heat's trademark explosiveness. What was lacking for the Heat at times last season when Battier went cold and Mike Miller was injured, though, was outside shooting. Their answer to that problem was signing Ray Allen, who was set to enter the game.
First quarter, 5:39, Celtics 17-14: In a game that features superstars like Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the first two baskets were naturally scored by… Shane Battier and Brandon Bass.
Everybody has to get involved on both sides for either team to win. That is indisputable. But Paul Pierce looked willing to try to win this one all by his lonesome when he launched two loooooong 3-pointers in the opening minutes. Both shots found twine. Even more impressive, though, might have been his stuff of a Wade shot attempt. Pierce seldom had the mobility to make such split-second defensive plays last season, and he does not look troubled from the ankle he tweaked in the preseason.
7:40 p.m.: Take a good look at that expression on LeBron James' face, because we will never see it again. No matter how long James plays, he will never again win his first championship, and he will never again have that look of pure wonder on his face at finally receiving his ring.
James is not the most popular guy in Boston. We get that. But if any Celtics fans can put aside their distaste for James for one minute, they should appreciate the way James finally got the monkey off his back after having outsized expectations placed on him since puberty.
Also, no sign of the Celtics or Allen. Game on in about 20 minutes.
7:17 p.m.: Doc Rivers teased us all preseason by mixing up the starting lineup with the likes of Jared Sullinger and Jason Terry. The starter shuffle sparked speculation that the Celtics could open the season with a roster vastly different from the one they rode to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, with more than only the injured Bradley missing from the opening night lineup.
As it turned out, none of that worrying was warranted. Brandon Bass will start for the Celtics, just as he did throughout the second half of last season and the playoffs. Courtney Lee will start at shooting guard, as everyone assumed he would as soon as Boston acquired him in August.
The starting lineups appear below.
4:06 p.m.: Avery Bradley is not ready to take part in full-contact team activities yet, but the third-year guard out of Texas will have plenty of time to get comfortable in Boston. The Celtics exercised their team option on Bradley for the 2013-14 season, potentially keeping the defensive menace in a green uniform for at least a fourth season.
By exercising the option, the Celtics made Bradley eligible for restricted free agency in 2014. The Celtics would have the right to match any offer Bradley receives.
2:08 p.m.: Only one member of the Celtics who suffered through last spring's playoff loss to the Miami Heat will stand by quietly while the Heat are honored on Tuesday.
That player will be Ray Allen.
Allen will have to watch respectfully since he is now a member of those Heat. The rest of the Celtics will not take part. Doc Rivers told reporters — jokingly or not — on Tuesday morning that the Celtics would be in the locker room watching the TV show "Homeland" during the ceremony.
Doc Rivers says Heat will start ring ceremony early, so his team's pregame won't change much. Will head to court w/ 16 mins on pregame clock
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 30, 2012
Make no mistake, the Celtics are eager to get back onto the court — just not eager to relive the agony of the seven-game defeat. Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox tweeted their excitement as their road back has been longer and more fretful than most.
8 a.m. ET: The time for
talking is done. Any hurt feelings over the way last season ended for
the Celtics and the particulars that led Ray Allen to sign with the Heat
in the offseason officially will be old news
when the season tips off in Miami.
The Celtics rebuilt with a deeper team around old mainstays like Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, who enabled a Boston
spending spree by re-signing for well below market value. The Heat kept
all their creaky bodies around the core of LeBron
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and added another veteran in Allen.
For the third straight season, the Celtics and Heat will be among the
favorites in the Eastern Conference. If they live up to those
expectations, they will do so in very different ways. The first test of
the new year takes place Tuesday.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m.