Twelve of the Heat’s current players received rings on Tuesday night. Two of those who did not were plotting during the ceremony on how to get their own.
While the majority of the Heat’s players were standing in full view on the court’s baseline and enjoying the party-like atmosphere, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis were out of sight, away from their teammates and giving each other pep talks minutes before their debuts with the Heat.
Established starters for the majority of their careers, Allen and Lewis are now fixtures on the Heat’s second platoon. Allen is Dwyane Wade’s backup, and Lewis is essentially a second-unit version of Shane Battier. These are new roles for the veterans but, the way they see it, no less important than the starting jobs they have had with former teams.
So as LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh smiled for the cameras with their new jewelry, Allen and Lewis were talking about coming off the bench for the defending champions. Depth has been a problem in the past for the Heat, but the additions of Allen and Lewis has given Heat coach Erik Spoelstra more flexibility with his lineup.
“We just sat over there and talked about the bench and how we got to be one of the best benches in the league,” Lewis said. “We got to come in the game and keep building leads and create leads and not lose any leads once our first unit comes off the floor.”
Lewis and Allen certainly did the job on opening night in the Heat’s 120-107 victory against the Boston Celtics. Allen had 19 points in 31 minutes, receiving more playing time than starters James (29 minutes) and Shane Battier (30 minutes). Lewis had 10 points in 19 minutes. He was 4 of 5 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range and1 of 2 from the free-throw line.
“That’s how we got to go all year long,” Allen told Lewis.
It was a significant night in the careers of both players.
For Allen, obviously, it was his first game against his former team and his first game since struggling through the 2012 playoffs with sore ankles.
Lewis was just happy to be back on the court. A starter for the Orlando Magic on several strong playoff teams, he was limited significantly by chronic knee injuries in 2010 and 2011.
“Overall, I feel 10 times better than I did in the last two years,” Lewis said. “Just getting legs into my shot and just being able to run up and down with no pain just feels good because being able to rotate on defense, getting back to the quickness, just helps a lot.”
Lewis subbed in for Battier with 1:54 left in the first quarter and looked a little rusty on defense in his first few minutes of action. Paul Pierce got past him for a dunk, and he was slow to rotate on a 20-foot jumper by Jeff Green.
Lewis found his legs in the second quarter, though. He scored his first field goal with his new team — a 23-footer on an assist from Wade — less than a minute into the period. He had four points in the third quarter and three points in the fourth.
Lewis started the final quarter alongside James, Allen, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, and his three-pointer with 9:27 left in the game gave the Heat an 18-point lead. As it would turn out, the Heat needed almost every point.
Miami led by as many as 19 in the fourth quarter, but Boston cut the advantage to four with 2:09 remaining.
The Heat held off the Celtics despite James leaving the game early in the fourth quarter because of cramping in his legs. All told, the Heat went 10 deep, something that rarely happened last season. Miller and Norris Cole each played seven minutes off the bench, and Haslem had three rebounds in 12 minutes.
“We can come at people in waves, and that’s going to be our strength this year,” Battier said.
The extra bodies gave Bosh and Wade, in his first regular-season game back from knee surgery, enough energy to outlast the equally deep Celtics in the final minutes of the game. Bosh had seven points in little more than seven minutes in the final period. Wade, who logged just 26 minutes entering the fourth quarter, played more than nine minutes in the final frame and had nine points.
“The depth is amazing,” Wade said. “I love it. I’m sure at times it’s tough on Coach to figure out who to put in, but it makes you just be able to go out there and play hard, knowing that you got another guy that’s highly capable coming in behind you that can spell you a lot of minutes.
“So that’s why we put ourselves in this position. That’s why we sacrificed, so we can have that ability.”