Ray Allen tossed the ball toward the rim and, with one flap of Birdman’s colorful wings, the arena soared, flapping in unison. It was a flock of bleach-white sea birds led by that one rare and always-rising phoenix everyone has so quickly come to love.
Chris Andersen finished Allen’s lob pass with an artistic dunk, a melted box of Crayolas burning white-hot through a three-dimensional plane. The Heat let the young Bucks hang around for far too long, Andersen and LeBron James collectively decided, and they blew the game open with one of those familiar waves of offense that this team can so quickly gather upon command.
So, now it’s one down and 15 to go. Sixteen victories in all and the Heat will have its third NBA title.
The defending NBA champion Heat opened its title defense with a 110-87 victory against the Bucks on Sunday in Game 1 of the first round of the 2013 playoffs. The sold-out crowd was bedecked in white T-shirts, over 20,000 of them, and the sugar bowl effect was a sweet reminder of just how fun postseasons have become in this town. James finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, two shy of a his third postseason triple-double with the Heat.
James, of course, ended the 2012 playoffs with one of those triple-doubles, and his dominance Sunday felt like an extension of that form. He was 9 of 11 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range and 8 of 11 from the free-throw line.
“That’s about efficient as you can get,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “[James] really let the game come to him. It was a very mature, high-IQ game. That’s about as efficient as you can get.”
Said James: “I’m setting the bar, actually, too high for myself.”
James was on his game, but there were signs of rust for a team that coasted through April after clinching the top seed in the playoffs so early. The Heat had 19 turnovers and shot 30.4 percent from three-point range (7 of 23). Shane Battier was 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.
A three-pointer by Chris Bosh gave the Heat a 59-48 lead two minutes into the third period, but the Heat didn’t pull away until the end of the quarter. A four-point play by Bucks guard Brandon Jennings kept Milwaukee within striking distance, but the Heat’s offense was simply too much to contain.
More specifically, James was unstoppable.
He muscled his way through three defenders for a layup with 5:43 to play in the third quarter and then converted the and-one free throw for his second three-point play of the game. Jennings delivered his four-point play, which quieted the building, Ray Allen answered with a three-pointer from the corner.
Then James and Andersen put on a show. James slashed through the lane for a sharp and violent dunk to give the Heat a 10-point lead.
“I was going for a layup at first,” said James, who adjusted his drive based on the Bucks’ defense and instead threw down a dunk with far too much quickness, grace and dexterity for someone weighing more than 250 pounds.
With a feed from James on the Heat’s next possession, Andersen dunked at point-blank range and the rout was on. The in-house sound system blared George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ famous guitar riff from Bad to the Bone, and Andersen delivered his alley-oop two possessions later.
“When you get the crowd behind you like that — they get so loud — everybody else gets energized," Andersen said.
“Those energy bursts, you don’t know when they’re going to happen,” Spoelstra said. “Those plays weren’t designed for [Andersen]. They were multiple-effort plays.”
Andersen finished 10 points and seven rebounds in less than 25 minutes and his Mohawk was so sharp and thin it resembled a circle saw sticking out of his head. Dwyane Wade had 16 points on 12 shots to go along with five assists, five rebounds and two steals and a blocked shot. Chris Bosh had 15 points seven rebounds. Allen had 20 points off the bench, going 6 of 13 from the field and 2 of 8 from three-point range. Allen also had five rebounds, three assists and two steals in his Heat postseason debut.
Miami led 52-45 at halftime, scoring 26 points in each of the first two quarters. James and Bosh wowed the crowd in begin of the game with dunks and big plays but Jennings, the Bucks’ brash guard, grabbed the spotlight before halftime. He scored 18 points in the first half, maneuvering between the Heat’s defenders with quick cuts and an endless stream of pick and rolls.
Before the game, Jennings shrugged off attention created by his pre-series prediction of defeating the Heat in six games. The confident young Buck back up his big talk with a stellar if not dominant first half. A pair of driving layups by Jennings, sandwiching a free throw by Ellis, pulled Milwaukee within three points of the Heat’s lead with 2:27 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Bucks did get much offense beyond Jennings and Ellis, who finished with 22 points. Milwaukee shot 41.5 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from three-point range (7 of 26).
“The first game is over with, so that’s the one everyone comes out and is nervous with,” said Jennings, who finished 26 points, going 8 of 20 from the field. “Now that we know what they’re about, we just need to play now.”