Paul Pierce, LeBron James

Game of the Night: Boston holds off Miami’s late surge


Well, the Miami Heat won’t be going 82-0 this season. The experienced Celtics were able to handle the Heat on Tuesday night, winning by a final score of 88-80 and making the Heat look terrible at times, holding Miami to nine points in the first quarter and just 30 points in the first half. The Heat were able to threaten the Celtics late, but the 2008 champions were firmly in control for much of the game. Here are some thoughts from the season opener and Wade and James’ first official NBA game together:

1. LeBron reminded us what he is and isn’t.

LeBron James more or less picked up where he left off last season. After a very slow start, James was able to show the skills that won him the last two MVP awards, as well as some of the issues that have kept him from winning a championship. With Wade and Bosh both having horrible nights, Miami’s offense was the LeBron show.

James was unable to establish any kind of offensive rhythm against the brutally effective Boston defense that knocked him out of the playoffs last season. He couldn’t find any space on pick-and-rolls, wasn’t able to get any easy opportunities by moving without the ball, and couldn’t create a quality passing lane to save his life. LeBron finished with only three assists and eight turnovers, and it was clear that Boston’s defense wasn’t allowing him to play the way he wanted to, especially in the half-court. Some of LeBron’s turnovers occurred because his teammates weren’t ready for passes, others occurred because he tried to complete a pass that wasn’t there, and some turnovers were the product of pure carelessness. But all of them illustrated just how uncomfortable LeBron was with unfamiliar teammates and an all-too-familiar Boston defense shadowing his every move.

Even with all of that going on, James was the best player on the court for much of the game. He scored a game-high 31 points by shooting over the defense (James scored 15 points on 13 shots taken outside of the paint, and most of them were contested), simply running over his defender, or converting an open-court opportunity. It was impressive to behold, but it wasn’t enough to beat Boston in 2008, it wasn’t enough to beat Boston in last year’s playoffs, and it wasn’t enough to beat Boston on Tuesday night.

James’ three major offensive weaknesses all hurt Miami on Tuesday night. His free-throw shooting was shaky, and Miami could have used the four points LeBron left at the line late in the game. LeBron only posted up twice, and failed to get a basket both times. His shot selection remains bizarre, and he took a few of his ill-advised but predictable “heat-check” threes when he would have been better served setting up the offense.

More importantly, James’ new running mates weren’t able to take any pressure off of him. Bosh and Wade both played terribly, and LeBron never established chemistry with either of them. When that happened, James was forced to try and do everything himself, and was ultimately put in a position to be betrayed by his weaknesses. When James was off the floor, disaster struck — the Heat were outscored by nine points during the five minutes James sat. Simply put, this was not the kind of game LeBron had in mind when he decided to come to Miami.

2. Boston is in midseason form.

It’s stating the obvious, but I’ll say it anyways: Boston looked like a team that has been playing together for a lot longer than the Heat have been. Boston picked apart the Heat’s swarming defense by moving the ball from side to side, having Rajon Rondo attack the open space to open up drive and kick opportunities (Rondo had 17 assists; the Heat had 15), dumping the ball down low to exploit Joel Anthony’s lack of size, and knocking down their open threes, especially when they mattered most. Almost every shot the Celtics took was a high-percentage look; 78 of the team’s 88 points came from inside the paint, the free-throw line, or beyond the arc. That’s what an offense rolling on all cylinders looks like.

Defensively, the Celtics didn’t seem to miss either Kendrick Perkins or assistant coach and defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau; they shut down the paint, rotated on shooters, and forced 17 Heat turnovers. On Tuesday night, the Celtics looked like a team rather than a collection of talents.

3. The Heat might be a bit deeper than we think.

The less said about Wade and Bosh’s performances (a combined 7-for-27 from the floor, with seven turnovers), the better. Wade looked rusty, and Bosh just looked overwhelmed — this is the first time Wade has played more than three minutes of organized NBA basketball since April 27th, and Bosh isn’t going take over against a defense like Boston’s without James and Wade opening things up for him a bit.

The good news for Heat fans is that Miami got some solid contributions from players who weren’t expected to contribute much this season. Eddie House looked like a man possessed; he made some great defensive plays (I’m serious), was all over the court, did a decent job of handling the ball, and nailed some open threes. James Jones had two big threes that kept the Heat in the game in the fourth quarter. Zydrunas Ilgauskas did a great job on the boards, and Miami’s offense actually looked really good when they gave the ball to Ilgauskas in the high post and actually started to move without the ball. It’s obviously an absurdly small sample size, but the fact that the Heat were +17 in Ilgauskas’ 11 minutes of play may be worth noting.

James, Wade, and Bosh are going to do the heavy lifting for this team, and Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller (when he returns), are going to play major roles. However, the other seven players on the Heat roster are going to have to produce at times, and it’s going to be a major advantage for the Heat if they can trust players like House and Ilgauskas to play significant minutes.

That’s all from me on this game. Great win for the Celtics. The Heat should take some comfort in keeping the game close when they were so completely outclassed for most of the game, but this is not the way they wanted to start their season.

Kevin Love unsure about opening-night return

Kevin Love
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He’s back in practice with the Cavaliers, but there’s still no clarity on whether Kevin Love will be available for the season opener. Love had shoulder surgery in April after suffering a torn labrum in Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Celtics, and doctors initially gave him a timetable of four to six months for a return. The six-month end of that is right around opening night (October 27), but Love still doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play against the Bulls—although he is hopeful.

Via the Sporting News‘ Sean Deveney:

“I feel pretty good,” Love told Sporting News. “As far as the opener goes, I am not completely sure. I’ll probably get with the doctors and see what they have to say. I know that my six-month post-op is coming up here pretty fast. As far as getting the strength back, getting the range of motion, I feel pretty good, so I am looking forward to getting into some more contact, getting into a rhythm and getting out there as quickly as I can.”

Love has been cleared for 3-on-3 practices, but not yet for 5-on-5. If it were up to him, he’d be back on the court, but he understands he needs to follow the rehab protocol for his injury.

“(Six months is) just a ballpark figure that has generally been thrown out there by anybody who has talked about the rehab process for this kind of an injury,” Love said. “I like to think that I am ahead of the game, but there’s different tests and the due diligence that the doctor will go through and the training staff will go through. So all I can do is go out there every day and attack my rehab and hopefully I will be able to go out there and help these guys as soon as possible.”

At the very least, the Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving (still recovering from knee surgery) and Iman Shumpert (out up to three months with a wrist injury), and probably Tristan Thompson too, unless his contract situation changes unexpectedly. So having Love available would be some much-needed good news. But it’s more important that Love (and everyone else) is healthy for the playoffs. If he’s not ready to play, there’s no need to rush back for an October game.

Greg Smith fails physical, will not join Pelicans

Greg Smith
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With both starter Omer Asik and backup Alexis Ajinca out injured for the rest of the preseason (and maybe a little longer), the Pelicans are looking for a center to put next to Anthony Davis for a stretch. That could include a handful of regular season games.

Greg Smith was going to be that man, but the 24-year-old failed his physical, reports the Times-Picayune.

The New Orleans Pelicans were set to sign power forward Greg Smith, but sources said Friday night that he failed his physical examination and will not be joining the team.

And so the search goes on.

The problem is, there are not quality big men still out there on the market, there is a limited supply and just about anyone worth having is spoken for. A few with non-guaranteed contracts may be waived as we get closer to the end of training camps, but that is likely a couple of weeks away.

With both Asik and Ajinca expected back in a few weeks, it’s not worth making a trade or some big move to bring in a center, the Pelicans are just going to have to live with what is out there.