Miami does nothing modestly — not the beach, not the bodies and certainly not the hoops.
On Tuesday night by the bay, the city’s basketball team celebrated its 2012 NBA championship with a spectacle befitting this town.
Indoor fireworks signaled the pregame ring ceremony’s grand finale. Synchronized blinking bracelets on every fan’s wrist kept time with the music as the championship banner was lifted into the rafters.
The players wore uniforms and shoes trimmed in championship gold. Larry O’Brien Trophies were on the backs of the warm-up jackets.
And, of course, replica rings were on sale in the gift shop for $10.
Then the game started and the choreographed show and the oversized plastic rings were made small by comparison.
Oftentimes, NBA defending champions under perform on the night they receive their rings. Last season’s Dallas Mavericks, for example. The Heat suffered no ring hangover, defeating the Boston Celtics 120-107 on opening night of the 2012-2013 season.
AmericanAirlines Arena rocked during the pregame festivities but the noise reached its audible apex when LeBron James powered home a two-handed dunk in transition at the end of the end of the first half. The field goal gave Miami an eight-point lead and the Celtics never led in the final two quarters.
“It was an emotional time for all of us in the organization but our guys did a very good job of compartmentalizing and we turned the switch as soon as we went to warm-ups,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James, fresh off the best season of his career and an Olympic gold medal this summer, had 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists. He was forced out of the game twice in the second half with leg cramps, leaving for good early in the fourth quarter.
The Heat led by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter but the Celtics whittled the deficit to four with 2:10 left. With James out, Chris Bosh took over and scored seven consecutive points to put the game away. Bosh finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, going 8 of 15 from the field. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 29 points.
“Chris is as steady as they come and he came up big in the fourth quarter when maybe we were a little fatigued,” Spoelstra said. “He does that, for some reason, quietly around the league but we understand how important he is to the success of our team.”
Bosh gave the Heat a 118-107 lead with 43.6 seconds left and it got ugly from there. Celtics guard Rajon Rondo picked up a flagrant-1 foul when he bumped into Wade with 16.9 seconds remaining. The players had to be separated and Rondo was then pulled off the court by Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
“It was a punk play by him,” Wade said. “He clothes-lined me with two hands.”
Wade retreated to the scorer’s table during the drama and glowered in Rondo’s direction. Mario Chalmers then walked over and slapped Wade’s hands with vigor. The game was over.
“Rondo sucks,” the crowd chanted.
All week, Ray Allen’s words have been measured — almost apologetic — when asked about his divorce with the Boston Celtics and his soured relationship with Rondo. On the court, he held nothing back. He drilled his first three-point attempt of the game and shook his hand in excitement as he jogged back on defense.
“We got Ray,” the crowd chanted several times during the game.
He had 11 points in his first 12 minutes of action in the first half. He finished with 19 points in 31 minutes, going 5 of 7 from the field. Before the game, Allen sat on the hardwood in the northeast corner of the court during the Heat’s championship ceremony. It was a surreal experience for the future Hall of Famer. After all, his final game of last season — his final game with the Celtics — was on the same court last spring.
Allen plays big
Allen’s 19 points placed him second in franchise history ahead of Kevin Edwards for points off the bench in a debut game. Willie Burton holds the record at 25 points.
Allen’s three-pointer off the glass gave the Heat a 49-44 lead with 5:06 left in the second quarter. Bosh followed with a dunk and the Heat’s lead grew to eight points (62-54) at halftime.
“A Hall of Famer coming off the bench,” James said of Allen. “It’s a treat for us and just another example of the sacrifices that guys make to play here.”
James began the second half with a three-pointer and had a productive third quarter despite the cramps. He drilled a 22-footer from the left wing to put the Heat ahead by 19 at the beginning of the fourth.
Chalmers had eight points and 11 assists. Shane Battier had a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter and finished with six points. Rashard Lewis was productive of the bench with 10 points.