The last time the Heat opened the season after raising a banner and receiving their championship rings, the night was all about the pre-game festivities. After celebrating the 2006 NBA title, Miami had no interest in the basketball game that followed, and suffered an embarrassing 42-point loss at home to open the season at the hands of the Chicago Bulls — the very team that would wind up sweeping them out of the first round of the playoffs to end their season.
By contrast, the 2012 version of the Miami Heat were ready to compete from the start.
After LeBron James received his first championship ring, he looked every bit like the reigning MVP that we saw last June — especially in the first half — and helped lead Miami to a 120-107 victory over the Boston Celtics.
James had 16 points, 9 rebounds, two assists and two steals by halftime, while former Celtic Ray Allen had a quick 13 off the bench in 14 minutes to carry the Heat to 62 points and an eight-point lead at intermission.
The game was a competitive one between two teams who truly don’t like each other; the Ray Allen storyline only adds to the animosity. Kevin Garnett wanted nothing to do with Allen when he headed over to the Celtics bench to greet his former teammates and coaches late in the first quarter, but the cold shoulder had no effect on Allen’s hot shooting — his first made bucket in a Miami uniform came on a three-pointer from the corner, which, if you’ve watched Allen play even a little throughout his career, should come as absolutely no surprise.
The Heat pushed their lead to double-digits midway through the third, but Boston managed to hang around and keep things from getting out of hand — that is, strangely enough, until James and Dwyane Wade both headed to the bench at the same time.
James was back and forth from the locker room to the bench in the second half due to what was reportedly cramping issues, which forced an unusual lineup late in the third of Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, and Chris Bosh. That unit blew the game open, and turned an eight-point lead into a 17-point advantage by ending the third on a 12-3 run over the final 3:36 of the period.
The Celtics, however, clawed their way back in it, thanks to a summer pickup of their own: Leandro Barbosa, who exploded for 16 fourth-quarter points to bring the Celtics back to within four with just under two minutes to play. Chris Bosh took over for the Heat from there, and with James sidelined went on a personal 7-0 run to seal the win for the Heat.
Wade led all scorers with 29 points, and was on the receiving end of a grab around the neck from Rajon Rondo which was ruled a flagrant foul with 16 seconds left and the game having already been decided. Again, these teams don’t like each other.
It was ultimately a successful night for the Heat, and if the production they received off the bench from Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis was a sign of things to come, Miami could be even more dangerous offensively than last year’s championship edition. The Celtics competed for much of the night and almost came back to have a chance to steal this one at the end, and a focus on improving team defensive principles as the season progresses could get them back to a postseason meeting with this same Miami team.
But the Heat are the defending champions, and played like it on opening night. If the performance from James and company was just the beginning, we might very well see them there at the very end once again.