BOSTON – On opening night, the Big Three were a Big Flop.
So much for the coronation, the predictions of a 73-win season, and shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference in July. In October, when it finally mattered, the Celtics were still the Celtics. The Heat were the test-tube babies of the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2006-07 Heat: Not good enough.
The champions of the summer have a lot to work on in the fall.
Returning to the scene of his greatest career disappointment, LeBron James once again was denied by the savvier, grittier, defensive-minded Celtics, who inflicted the first scar on the team expected by some to dominate the NBA. The original Big Three beat the newer version, 88-80 Tuesday night in the 2010-11 NBA season opener.
Boston had to sweat out a flurry of one-on-one majesty by King James, who had 15 points in the third to turn a 45-30 rout into a six-point game, 63-57, heading into the fourth quarter. Then, the Celtics – 26th in fourth-quarter scoring last season – tempted fate with a sloppy closeout attempt as the Cavs – I mean, Heat – went on a 10-0 run from the 4:14 mark to the 1:10 mark. The run cut Boston’s 83-70 lead to 83-80 with 70 seconds left.
The Celtics, still undisputed Kings of getting baskets out of timeouts in big moments, got a 3-point dagger from Ray Allen with 49.8 seconds left to keep mighty Miami winless in 2010-11. The Heat, and their accompanying media circus, travel to Philadelphia Wednesday for Game 2. And if opening night was any indication of the drama and hype that will surround this team, it is going to be a crazy ride.
But the anticipated issues of chemistry between LeBron and Wade, who missed all but three minutes of the preseason with a hamstring injury and Chicago court appearances, reared their ugly head all night. LeBron led the Heat back in 1-on-5 Cavs style in the third, with Wade and Chris Bosh on the bench. Like his old team, LeBron’s new team had no answer to pesky Rajon Rondo and no fortitude in protecting the basket from Boston’s improved frontcourt.
All of this is fixable, and not entirely surprising when you consider that the Celtics’ core has been together for three years, with one title to their credit, and the Heat have been together for what coach Erik Spoelstra reminded everyone before the game was 14 practices and two shootarounds.
But none that changed the fact that LeBron would walk out of TD Garden, his house of horrors, in much the same fashion that saw him leave last spring: In defeat.