MIAMI —The Miami Heat’s dynamic Big Two overwhelmed the Boston Celtics’ aging, aching Big Three in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals Monday, leading the Heat to a resounding 93-79 victory.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade made a prophet out of Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who noted before the game that, absent the injured Chris Bosh, the Heat gets a bit more dangerous because the pair takes more responsibility.
James dominated with a mix of pretty and powerful shots, scoring 32 points and collecting 13 rebounds as the Heat took a step towards making a return to the NBA Finals. Wade, meantime, shook off a six-point first half to ignite Miami during a breakaway third quarter that got the American Airlines Arena crowd roaring. He finished with 22 points and seven assists.
“You’re not going to take everything away from them; they have two sensational players,” Rivers said. “But we gave them both. We let Wade and LeBron play in extreme comfort.”
“We’re playing great team ball,” Wade said. “We’re not playing as much hero ball as we played last year. . . . We trust each other, and that comes with time.”
Boston’s Kevin Garnett made Miami miss the defensive presence of Bosh, who is out indefinitely with an abdominal strain, but Garnett’s 23 points and 10 rebounds weren’t nearly enough.
Looking fatigued from the start, the Celtics struggled throughout to knock down shots. Paul Pierce scored 12 on 5-of-18 shooting. Ray Allen scored just 6 on 1 of 7 from the field. Rajon Rondo — not part of Boston’s Big Three — started slowly but tallied 16 with nine rebounds and seven assists.
“They were ready to play,” Rivers said. “We just kind of joined the game. . . . On the road, you just can’t have two quarters of lulls. You just can’t afford that.”
Actually, Boston had one good quarter, the second. The Celtics hit nearly 60 percent of their field goals in the period and scored 35 points to enter halftime tied, 46-all. But aside from that 12-minute spurt, the Heat manhandled Boston in every category. Miami outrebounded the Celtics 48-33. The Heat blocked 11 shots; the Celtics, just one.
A blocked shot “is just as effective as a dunk,” James said. “They’re both momentum-changing plays. . . . Most of our blocks aren’t hit out of bounds, so it allows us to start off the fast break.”
Boston failed even at the free-throw line, converting just 11 of 21 (52.4 percent). Allen, who has been nursing a sore ankle, hit just 3 of 7 from the line.
The game was tied, 50-all, early in the third quarter, but the Celtics, who hit 32 of 81 field goals (39.5 percent), went cold as Wade woke up.
After offering a smiling hug to his mother seconds before tip-off — she sat on the floor wearing a “D-Wade Mom” T-shirt — Wade played decoy and ball distributor early as James authored most of Miami’s offense. As Wade passed up shots, James muscled the ball to the hoop. He slammed home an alley-oop on a backdoor play that made Pierce look invisible. He penetrated and dished and single-handedly outscored Boston in the first period.
James had 13 points. The Celtics fell behind, 21-11.
It was Wade, however, that helped Miami dispatch with Boston in the second half, sparking a 15-4 run. With Miami up 55-52, Wade grabbed an offensive rebound, spun, spotted James streaking down the court, and launched a full-court baseball pass. James hauled it in under the other basket and layed it in for an easy two as Garnett stood helplessly by.
Seconds later, Wade took a feed from James on the wing and flew past Allen, lofting in another two points, untouched. Wade then fed James Jones for a three, flew through Boston’s defense again, soaring for another easy lay-in, and hit James, wide open, under the basket for a quick two. A couple more scores put the Heat up 70-58 late in the third period.
“In the third quarter, the game just got away from us,” Rivers said. “They made way too many layups. . . . We have to do a better job of protecting the paint.”
Boston looked tired and sluggish in the first quarter, fitting for a team that finished off the Philadelphia 76ers in a Game 7 just 48 hours previous. The Celtics hit just 5 of their first 20 shots (25 percent), with Garnett hitting three of them. Rondo turned the ball over four times and missed his only three shot attempts in the first quarter.
Miami, which had been craving some contributions from its three-point shooters, got a pair of threes from Miller and help from the various corners of its lineup that were cold throughout much of the first two rounds, but Wade was oddly quiet.
It was, as it turned out, just a warmup for a big finish.
“I was just being patient until my time came when I could pick and choose when I could attack,” Wade said. “With a team like that, you don’t want to spar with them too much.”