Well, it's official: The Boston Celtics grabbed a big win on Opening Night against the highly-touted and possibly over-hyped Miami Heat. The Celtics led by as many as 19 in the first half, before LeBron led the Heat back to within three late in the fourth quarter. On the back of a Ray Allen three-pointer and two clutch Paul Pierce free throws, the Celtics held on late to win 88-80 at TD Garden. Of course, the late plays are what sealed the deal, but what was that put the Celtics in a position to win from the beginning? Here we'll take a look at why the Celtics were able to start the 2010-11 season with a win.
Although may not like to admit it, the Miami Heat looked suspiciously like the Cleveland Cavaliers: one-dimensional, largely ineffective in the face of a tough defense, and seriously lacking in overall depth.
Yes, tonight was once again The LeBron James Show.
James finished with 31 points (easily double the points of Dwyane Wade, the next highest point-scorer), going 10-for-21 from the field and 8-for-12 from the free throw line. Dwyane Wade scored 13 points, and was largely ineffective and mistake-prone for much of the game. LeBron clearly did most of the work himself, and was only slightly helped by Wade, with Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat left seemingly idle.
With James and Wade the only scorers in double digits, four players in double digits for the Celtics (Ray Allen, with 20 points, Paul Pierce, with 19 points, Glen Davis, with 13 points, and Kevin Garnett, with 10 points), Boston presented a more balanced attack on offense that allowed them to open up holes in Miami's defense. As much LeBron dominated the second half, a one-man show is never enough to win on a consistent basis.
With Kevin Garnett struggling, and Rajon Rondo not always being able to make all the right plays, it was up to the other guys to step up their game to push Boston to the finish.
The "Boston Bench Mob" did just that.
Glen Davis finished the game with thirteen points, including a fourteen-foot jumper late in the fourth quarter to keep the Celtics ahead. Davis also looked good away from the ball, making his presence felt in the post, helping himself to good looks down low and being able to put the ball up and bank in some important points. Marquis Daniels showed flashes of brilliance, finishing with eight points off the bench. Daniels found ways to score, too, including a few nice layups and six-foot jumper. With additional contributions from Nate Robinson (four points) and Jermaine O'Neal (one point), the Celtics bench added an extra push to the Celtics effort, especially down the stretch.
Despite his advancing age, Ray Allen still has the magic touch when it comes to quick three-point shooting. Allen shot 7-for-13 from the field, including 5-for-8 in three-point land, for a total of 20 points. Allen seemed to be able to score at will, nailing shots from across the floor, including his trademark corner shot. Allen's quick shots definitely helped the Celtics to temporarily take pressure off the defense, which was under constant attack by Miami's offense (aka LeBron hitting every shot while everyone else watched).
Paul Pierce nailed three big three-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter. Even when he wasn't hitting the three, he was able to draw a foul by James Jones and proceed to hit all three of his free throws. The three-point shooting by Pierce and Allen stifled any opening Miami had to make a run, as the Heat struggled to dig out of holes created by accurate outside shooting.
We all knew that Rajon Rondo was a great point guard. After last year's jump from simple point guard to true floor general, expectations were once again high. Against Miami, Rondo was again the master of the hardwood. Although only scoring four points, Rajon Rondo led the team with a total of seventeen assists, dishing out passes across the court, getting everyone involved, including Shaquille O'Neal, who took two nice passes from Rondo and turned them into two power dunks. Rajon Rondo can clearly when he needs to score and when he needs to pass, and tonight, he had the passing game going. From the paint to the perimeter, Rajon Rondo found ways to move the ball and get points on the board. Time to salute the floor general once more.
With all of the previous reasons mentioned, one would think that the mighty Boston Celtics blew out the over-hyped Miami Heat and solidly staked their claim that they are still the team to beast in the Eastern Conference, right? Not necessarily. As much I believe that's true, a second half slide against a surging Heat (read: LeBron) almost cost Boston the win, even after holding a nineteen point lead in the first half.
It took a few late buckets to finally put away the game for the Celtics. With 8:29 left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading by five, Glen Davis hit a slam dunk on a pass from Rajon Rondo. Within the next minute, Davis took it to the hole again with a nice layup, keeping the Celtics up by six after a James Jones three-pointer. After an eighteen-foot jumper by Kevin Garnett and a three-pointer by Paul Pierce, the Celtics were by nine with 5:26 left in the game. The Celtics would eventually go up by thirteen on three Pierce free throws and a Glen Davis jump-shot.
The Heat surged to close the gap to three with 1:09 left, but three-pointer by Ray Allen and two more Paul Pierce free-throws finally ended the Heat's chance of an epic come-from-behind victory. After a near-total defensive collapse, clutch shooting late in the game sealed the win for the Celtics, and despite the sloppy second half play, may very well have shown that any Eastern Conference team that wants to play for the Championship must go threw Boston first.