Celtics stumble, lose to Heat 93-79
MIAMI — There was a point Monday night when the Boston Celtics unexpectedly stood toe-to-toe with the Miami Heat in the opener of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final series.
And then the second quarter ended.
Sluggish at the outset and seemingly exhausted by the third quarter, the Celtics fell 93-79 at AmericanAirlines Arena, unable to match the 32 points scored by Heat forward LeBron James.
“Our game plan was to use our energy and effort here at home throughout the game,” said guard Dwyane Wade, who added 22 points for the Heat. “I thought we did a great job, especially after halftime, coming out and pushing the pace.”
With James becoming the first Celtics opponent to surpass the 30-point mark this postseason, a team-leading 23 points from Boston center Kevin Garnett simply wasn’t enough in response.
“We let Wade, we let LeBron play in extreme comfort,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “and we gave the other guys everything they wanted as well.”
But that doesn’t mean there might not be a pushback coming.
“They’re home, they’re comfortable, and when you’re comfortable you do things like that,” Rivers said of the Heat stringing together several highlight-reel plays. “We have to show them, to take them out of their comfort zone. We got to fight a lot harder.
“We did real good job of pressuring, a decent job keeping them away from the basket in the first half. In the second half, they got what they wanted. Not our best basketball.
“I believe we have better basketball in us. For us to be alive we have to play better.”
And perhaps offer a pushback.
“Nothing dirty, but those guys got to hit the deck, too,” Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said of Wade and James.
Replied James, “We expected to hit the deck, every single game.”
The odd quarters were disastrous for the Celtics, who scored just 11 points in the first quarter on 25 percent shooting and 15 in the third on 27 percent shooting. They had outscored the Heat 35-25 on 53.3 percent shooting in the second quarter.
“I thought we kind of joined the game,” Rivers said. “First quarter, we gave them a cushion. I thought in the second quarter, we executed our stuff offensively … and then in the third quarter, the game just got away from us.”
Even with forward Chris Bosh still sidelined by a lower abdominal strain, the Heat, who eliminated the Indiana Pacers on Thursday in Game 6 of that Eastern Conference semifinal series, simply had too much pep for the Celtics, who did not finish off the Philadelphia 76ers until Saturday’s Game 7 of that Eastern Conference semifinal.
After storming back to a halftime tie, the Celtics came out as sluggish at the start of the third period as they had in the first, opening the third period 2 of 12 from the field.
With the Celtics showing tired legs, the Heat moved to a 12-point lead late in the third period after some spectacular two-man play from James and Wade, including a full-court pass from Wade for a James layup.
The third quarter ended with the Heat up 72-61 and Boston seemingly out of gas and frustrated.
Midway through the third quarter, Rondo was called for a technical foul, the Celtics’ fourth of the game. Ray Allen and Rivers earlier were called for technicals, and Boston got a “T” for a first-quarter delay-of-game violation.
“Everyone, has to keep their composure, not just players and coaches,” said Rivers, who was not altogether pleased with the officiating.
For the most part, the fourth quarter was merely academic as the Celtics now regroup for Wednesday’s Game 2 back on the Heat’s home court.
Rivers said the Celtics will be better prepared for Game 2.
“I do think you need to face it once to see it,” Rivers said of the Heat’s defensive speed. “I think their speed, at times, overwhelmed us, for sure.”
Unable to score early, the Celtics scored 35 points in the second period, their high for a period this postseason and the most allowed in a quarter this postseason by the Heat. That enabled the Celtics to move into a 46-46 halftime tie.
The score was tied only because a basket by Miami’s Joel Anthony was disallowed during a halftime review, ruled to have come after the expiration of the shot clock in the second period.
What looked like an early blowout turned in the second quarter, when James slowed from his first-quarter scoring pace and Rondo became more involved in the Celtics’ offense.
James had 17 points at halftime, Garnett 13.
Down 11 early in the second quarter, the Celtics came around offensively, making 12 of 17 shots at one point in the second period.
Among the oddities for the Celtics in the first half were four missed foul shots by Allen. Allen had not missed four free throws in a game since 2006.
The Celtics opened 1-of-8 from the field and later fell to 3-of-13, with all three of those baskets from Garnett. The Celtics, in fact, went more than eight minutes into the game before backup center Greg Stiemsma became the second Celtic to convert a shot, with 3:51 to go in the opening period.
The Heat went into the second quarter up 21-11. James scored 13 in the opening period, when he was mostly defended by Paul Pierce, who has been dealing with knee issues. The 11 points were the fewest yielded by the Heat in a first quarter of any postseason game in their 24 seasons.
Garnett, with six points, was the lone Celtic to score more than two in the opening period. At one point in the second period, the Celtics’ starters other than Garnett were 1-of-15 from the field before coming around.
“On the road,” Rivers said, “you just can’t have two quarters of lulls.”
NOTES: Bosh was on the court Monday night, but only the practice court on the second level of AmericanAirlines Arena. The team acknowledged the latest workout of the sidelined All-Star forward about an hour before tipoff. “We’re all pleased with the progress he’s been making,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Bosh’s lower abdominal strain. “Seeing him like he is right now is significant progress, but it’s still indefinite for his return.” … Former Wizards, Pistons and Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders sat on the Celtics bench during the pregame. He has been traveling with the Celtics this postseason. … With his basket with 9.7 seconds to play in that opening period, James moved past Sam Jones into 22nd place on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. … Coach Doc Rivers, on the Celtics’ wild ride this season, “We’ve had a lot of stuff thrown at us, starting with Jeff Green (heart procedure).” … Monday’s game was the first in a conference final for Heat forward Shane Battier, who entered with 62 career playoff appearances, most of any active player yet to appear at this level of the postseason. The longest such active streak now belongs to Baron Davis, at 50 playoff appearances.