Anticipation Builds for Celtics-Heat Season Opener

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Has Doc Rivers ever been in an NBA season opener more highly anticipated than Tuesday night’s Celtics-Heat showdown?

“Well, yeah,” the C’s coach responded to the inevitable question. “I remember the Atlanta Hawks.”

He cracked. He couldn’t even finish the sentence with a straight face. This is the biggest season opener that anyone on either team has ever seen. Tuesday night will bring the convergence of Rivers, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra all in one building. If anyone says they’ve seen a bigger opening night than this, they’re lying through their teeth.

It’s just one game, but it’s obviously a very, very big game.

“I see it as a fun game,” Doc Rivers said. “It’s an interesting game. It’s nice that a lot of people want to pay attention to it. But then you know, after that game, we’ve got 81 more. You obviously want to win, especially because it’s at home and it’s against a team that you may face in the playoffs. But after the game, it becomes just one of 82.”

The Celtics finished their preseason 7-1, closing things out with a convincing 107-92 win Wednesday night over the New Jersey Nets. The Heat wrap up their exhibition slate on Friday night, taking on the Orlando Magic. The Heat are currently a disappointing 3-4, with Dwyane Wade injured for most of this month.

But after the preseason games are over and done with, both teams will have several days of uninterrupted practice to prepare for their Tuesday showdown at the TD Garden. That, and to answer countless questions about the hype surrounding Big Three versus Big Three. The challenge Tuesday night will be basketball, but until then, it’s to block out distraction.

“I think both teams will be pretty good at it,” Rivers said. “Once you get on the floor, there really aren’t any distractions. The only distractions are LeBron, Wade and Bosh. That’s good distraction. But talking about it? That’s something different. And that’s going to continue until we play.”

The C’s have four days of practice to prepare not just for Miami, but for a tough season-opening stretch of three games in four days. They’re home Tuesday against the Heat, then on the road to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers the following night. After one day off, they’re back at the TD Garden to face the Knicks.

Rather than focus on any one opponent, the Celtics will primarily focus on executing within themselves. Beyond that, they’ve got to mix and match with their preparation.

“I think most of the practices will be about us,” Rivers said. “Having said that, we are going to put stuff in each day defensively to get prepared for the first game. But actually, it’s the first two games. We did some stuff today defensively for what Cleveland would bring. That’s the difference between a playoff game where you can focus on just that one target, and the regular season, where you’ve got to focus on the first four games, really. We’ve got to try to get all this stuff in.”

The C’s have LeBron James to open, followed by his old team, followed by the team that tried and failed to get him. It’s going to be a week of nonstop media hype for obvious reasons.

It depends on the personalities — with some teams, the hype would be what drives them.

Not so much for the Celtics. They just want to get out there and play.

“For me, it’s not motivation,” said Rajon Rondo. “I could care less if people hype it up. I feel that we have the best team. We’ve yet to prove it, obviously, because we haven’t played yet, but we’re a self-motivated team. We don’t need the attention. We’re just going to go out there and play. We could care less if every game we play is on TV or not. We’re going to try to represent and play as hard as we can each night. As soon as we get this first game out of the way, I’ll be glad.”

The long grind of the NBA season is about to hit in full force. The Celtics are looking forward not only to their opener, but to the 81 games that follow.

“Obviously there’s a lot of anticipation for this first game,” Rondo said. “But I’m really just looking forward to playing. That’s about it.”

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