Well, did that one live up to the hype?
Somewhat. The Celtics probably should have blown Miami out of the water, but LeBron James made it close down the stretch. You might remember that Phil Jackson said that the Celtics were a team that wilted in the 4th quarter during last year’s finals. Well, this time the Celtics found a way to pull out a game they deserved to win, mostly thanks to a big final quarter from Big Baby and a key shot from Ray Allen.
So what else stood out from the opener? A lot of good, some bad, and what almost turned into an ugly ending—though not as ugly as Miami’s start. See a theme here?
Setting the Tone: Not a bad way to open the season, huh? A victory over the new darling child of the league is nice, but I am talking about the way the Celtics set the tone early in this game. They held Miami to just nine points in the first quarter, and just 30 in the first half—lower than in any game last season with only one of their star trio on the team.
Boston is a team that is defined by its defense, and the Celtics made sure they would force their style on the Heat from the get go. A still rusty Heat team that didn’t play together much did not have a chance to develop an identity during the preseason, and that showed. The Celtics held the Heat to just 27 percent shooting in the first half as they built up a 15-point lead heading into the break. In fact, the Heat looked an awful lot like the Cleveland Cavaliers of old out there, only producing offensively through the sheer willpower of James.
And speaking of setting a tone, it was Rajon Rondo who did just that on offense for the Celtics. Rondo was responsible in some part for all 16 points the Celtics scored in the first quarter—making one layup to start things off and then assisting on the next six buckets.
Glen Davis Plays Big: You know what was the most telling part of this game on the Celtics end? That Doc followed through with his plans to play Glen Davis next to Kevin Garnett, particularly in the key stretch at the end of the game.
Davis responded to his coach’s confidence in him, playing great defense on Chris Bosh in the first half when partnered with Garnett and coming up with key plays in the fourth quarter. With Rondo isolated with a big man on the left side of the floor, the Celtics lined up three men on the right side. At a point where the offense was stagnant, Rivers ran the offense this way right up until Ray Allen returned to the floor—for almost half of the quarter. And Davis was the big beneficiary, finding space to get easy buckets and moving to get himself open for a key jumper off an offensive rebound by Garnett.
Davis also took some key charges—nothing new for his game, though. The second unit for the Celtics was not great tonight, though Marquis Daniels had some great inside plays early on. But Davis stood out tonight, and I think that will continue all season.
Miami’s Other Two: LeBron James showed up; no surprise there. But where were Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?
Wade was nonexistent in this one, clearly looking like he was rusty after missing all but three minutes of the preseason. Wade was just 4-16 on the night and just looked out of sync in the offense. Bosh took the ball past Garnett a few times, but he didn’t assert himself. The lack of an inside presence will hurt Miami, and Bosh isn’t going to provide that. The comparisons to Garnett are correct—he prefers to be taking a jumper. His numbers (3-11) were almost as bad as Wade’s, and together the duo combined for 21 points.
Terrible? Not really, but certainly not up to expectations. And the Heat can’t win that way because they don’t have the role players to get it done.
Taking Care: We’ve talked about how the Celtics are going to turn over the basketball. But the 12 first half giveaways kept Miami close—I know 15 isn’t terribly close, but it could have been more—and gave Doc something to chirp about. The Heat couldn’t do anything on offense outside of transition opportunities, and the Celtics gave them that with miscues and poor shot selection at times.
Third Quarter Blues: When the Celtics won the championship, they routinely came out of the locker room and dominated the third quarter. But last year this team did not know how to put the hammer down on the opposition and finish things off.
That happened again tonight. The Celtics offense went stagnant and the Heat went off to the tune of a 27-18 advantage that pulled it back into the game. You had to think Miami was going to make a run, but this one was a little too close for comfort. The Celtics lack of movement on offense is what did them in, but that returned thanks to Rivers’ sets in the fourth quarter.
End of Quarter Production: Boston had the ball at the end of the quarter three times, and settled in for the last shot. Each time they did not get off a quality shot–twice letting the clock run out and the other time putting up a prayer.
A lot of that falls on Rondo, who had the ball in his hands and did not seem to start the offense quick enough. You’d like to see the team become more aware and get things going quicker there.