It seemed a lot harder last year.
The Heat took a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night with a 93-79 victory against the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena. While last season’s postseason series between the rivals only lasted five games, Boston at least made Miami work for it. This year’s version of the Celtics — older, slower, limping and maybe still sucking wind from a seven-game series with the Sixers, barely made LeBron James and Dwyane Wade break a sweat in Game 1.
“We haven’t accomplished anything; we know that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The way [Boston] grinds, they’ve already thrown this game away and they’re focusing on what they can do to steal Game 2.”
Whatever adjustments the Celtics make, they better be significant if Boston wants to extend this series beyond four or five games.
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James led the Heat with 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds and three assists. The reigning MVP has scored 130 points in his past four playoff games. James was focused from the beginning, scoring 13 points in the first quarter, and afterwards said he expects the Celtics to rebound in Game 2.
“[Boston] is a championship-caliber team, and no matter what injuries are going on I look at them as a championship-level group,” James said.
Wade did most of his damage after halftime. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, scoring 16 points in the second half. He led the Heat with seven assists, finding open shooters on the perimeter who made enough from the outside to spread thin the Celtics’ aging defense. The score was tied at halftime, but the Heat outscored the Celtics 47-33 in the second half.
“We have had a rest the last few days, so our game plan was to use our energy and effort,” Wade said. “We know there are going to be many adjustments in this series but in Game 1 we wanted to go out and use our engine and get a win.”
The Heat can take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series with a victory on Wednesday in Miami. Games 3 and 4 are in Boston, where the Heat failed to win this season.
The Heat’s dynamic duo, which has now dominated four straight playoff games, was bolstered by a combined 19 points from starters Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. Battier finished with 10 points, shooting 4 of 11 from the field and 2 of 9 from three-point range while playing superb defensively.
Meanwhile, the Celtics seemed more concerned about the officiating than anything else. Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and coach Doc Rivers each received technical fouls before the fourth quarter for arguing with refs. In all, the Celtics were hit with five technicals.
“I don’t how long I’ve been in the league but that would rank as the worst one,” Rivers said of his technical after the game. “I would have liked to earn it.”
The Heat shot 20 percent from three-point range but Mike Miller was 2 of 2 from behind the arc and Battier added two three-pointers of his own on nine attempts. James Jones, who played 10 minutes off the bench, also had a three-pointer.
The Heat won the rebounding battle 48-33 and had 42 points in the paint compared to 34 for the Celtics. Boston shot 39.5 percent with Rajon Rondo going 8 of 20 from the field for 16 points. Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting.
If the Celtics’ rebounding total wasn’t a clear sign of a fatigued team, Boston’s numbers from the foul line certainly was. The Celtics were 11 of 21 from the free-throw line. Ray Allen, playing with an injured foot, was 3 of 7 from the free-throw line and 1 of 7 from the field for six points.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see that again,” Rivers said of Allen’s free-throw misses. “He almost missed three in a row.”
The Heat was 1-3 against the Celtics this season with a pair of embarrassing losses in Boston but whatever advantage the Celtics held during the regular season evaporated amid a raucous sold-out AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat led 72-61 entering the fourth quarter but quickly took a commanding 16-point lead. Wade whipped a pass inside to Joel Anthony, who finished the play with an emphatic dunk, to give the Heat a 76-61 advantage. After a Boston timeout to stop the run, James slashed his way to the paint and scored with ease.
The Celtics shot just 25 percent and their first-quarter point total was the lowest ever by a Heat opponent in a postseason game.