On opening night, the gave the celebrated a dose of reality and offered testimony that the Eastern Conference still runs through them.
“Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0,” Dwyane Wade declared after at TD Garden. “It just ain’t happening.”
Those were the delusional expectations leveled upon Miami after the free agents and Chris Bosh joined Wade over the summer.
Instead, Miami played most of the evening like a team that had not performed together. That is mostly correct. Wade sustained a strained hamstring 197 seconds into their first preseason game and did not return to practice until Saturday.
Neither Wade nor Bosh was in All-Star form and went a combined 7 for 27.
After starting slowly himself, James finished in customary fashion, with a game-high 31 points. James and Wade totaled 14 turnovers and collaborated on two when James sent errant passes to Wade.
“It’s a feel-out process,” James said. “When you have so many options, it’s something I’m not accustomed to, having that many threats on the court at the same time.”
It may not have been as dramatic as Game 1 of the 2007-8 finals against the , when he left the court with a knee injury and returned to clinch a victory, but Pierce’s re-emergence in the fourth quarter after he collided with James in the third was just as timely. Miami started to surge from a 19-point deficit; Pierce returned about a minute into the fourth and scored 11 of his 19 points. Pretty soon, other players will want to find his cure for returning quickly and being so productive.
“Took a few Advils and put some heat on it and loosened it up a little bit and it was good for the rest of the game, but it’s going to be a little bit sore tonight and tomorrow,” Pierce said.
Allen was reliable as ever. His fifth 3-pointer (with an assist from Pierce) with 49 seconds left stretched the score to 86-80 and put the game out of reach. “I saw them collapse on me, and the guy is one of the best shooters in history, and it’s a no-brainer,” Pierce said.
The Celtics did not play all that well themselves. They played the brand of basketball — bold and brash — that has landed them in the finals twice the last three seasons.
“Just playing our game,” said the reserve forward Glen Davis, who scored 13 points.
James’s season and career with the ended here last year. The Celtics also clipped Wade during their run to the finals last season.
“At that time, I didn’t think that it would be the last moment I wear a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform, and I never thought, in the back of my mind, that I would be here somewhere else,” James said before the game. “But right now, as I reflect on it, I’m excited about this new start.”
Miami led for the only time at 2-0 after James’s 20-foot jumper. The Heat managed a mere 9 points in the first quarter. Miami shot only 36.5 percent over all, not well, but a significant improvement over its 26.8 percent in the first half. The Heat played without the sharpshooter Mike Miller, who is expected to miss the next several weeks after surgery on his right thumb.
James went nearly 18 minutes between his second and third field goals, but he collected himself and scored 15 points in the third quarter, slicing Boston’s lead to 63-57.
He did the same act as he often did in Cleveland with the rest of Miami rendered inefficient, putting his head down and finding a way to the rim.
James’s fourth-quarter layup drew the Heat within 83-80.
That set up Allen. With so much change in the N.B.A., his jumper remains as reliable as there is in the league.
“He delivers nine times out of 10,” Pierce said.
The Celtics did proudly premiere one 360-pound tweak. had a reunion with the star players he colluded with as he transitioned from marquee into sidekick. O’Neal was successful in delivering a championship to one (Wade) in Miami and not the other (James) in Cleveland.
O’Neal (9 points, 7 rebounds) began his own campaign for another championship with two rim-rattling dunks in the first quarter. He even connected on three free throws, further raising the decibel level in the arena.
Celtics Coach spoke of an adjustment period for O’Neal after the game. There will be one for the Heat, too.
“They’re going to be a lot better when we see them again and hopefully, we are as well,” Rivers said.