MIAMI — A big early Miami lead was wasted. Once the Heat took control again, they simply ran away from the Boston Celtics.
And the NBA finals are now three wins away for LeBron James and the Heat.
James scored 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and the Heat beat the Celtics 93-79 on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Shane Battier, playing in the conference finals for the first time, scored 10 points and had 10 rebounds for the Heat, who wasted an early 11-point first-half lead before running away to break a halftime tie. Miami outrebounded the Celtics 48-33, and blocked 11 Boston shots.
It was those last two stats that had James lauding the night as a team effort.
“We get a lot of the press, we get a lot of the headlines,” James said. “But our teammates, they do everything to help us win ball games.”
Kevin Garnett scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from Rajon Rondo and 12 points from Paul Pierce. Ray Allen shot just 1 for 7 from the floor for Boston, which was outscored by 10 in the first quarter and 11 in the third.
“On the road, you can’t have two quarters of lulls,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Miami.
It’s the third straight year the Heat and Celtics have met in the playoffs, the third straight year James has seen his postseason path go through Boston as well — the first of those matchups coming in 2010, his final run with Cleveland.
Each of those came in the first or second rounds, not this close to the NBA finals.
And while both sides would say there’s a long way to go in this series, Game 1 winners have a decided edge in any best-of-seven, the conference final being no exception. In the most recent 10 postseasons, teams with 1-0 leads in conference finals have advanced 15 out of 20 times. One of the five instances of a team rallying from a one-game deficit was last year, when Miami ousted Chicago in five games.
Last season’s Miami-Boston series ended with James scoring the final 10 points of Game 5, and the start of this year’s matchup had him putting on another offensive display.
He had 13 points in the first quarter — two more than the entire Celtics roster — and Miami ran out to a 21-11 lead after the opening period. Garnett made three of his four shots in the quarter, while everyone else in Boston green was 2 for 16 from the floor.
“They came to play,” Rivers said. “I mean Miami.”
The 11 points matched the lowest output by any team in the opening quarter this postseason. The other team to manage that few was San Antonio, which then dropped 32 on the Los Angeles Clippers in the second quarter of their game on May 19.
The Celtics’ response was even better.
Boston scored 35 in the second quarter, erasing what was an 11-point deficit early in the period by scoring 27 points in the final 8:46 of the half to pull into a 46-all tie. Rondo, Garnett and Pierce combined to score 23 points in the quarter, looking absolutely vintage, near-perfect offensive execution getting to Miami time and time again. And the Celtics’ comeback happened even while they got hit with three technical fouls in the second quarter, plus Allen missing four first-half free throws — matching his career-worst for an entire game.
In the end, it went down as merely a one-quarter lapse for Miami.
Another technical foul, this one on Rondo, came in the third quarter, likely born from frustration as the Heat started to roll again.
With the game tied at 50, Rondo missed three shots in a 31-second span early in the third, the last of those getting blocked by Battier — who hit a 3-pointer 11 seconds later. It started a 9-2 Miami burst, including a touchdown pass from Wade to James — Wade grabbed the rebound of a miss by Pierce, spun and delivered a 90-foot pass to the reigning MVP — for an easy score.
Miami led by as many as 13 late in the third, before taking a 72-61 lead into the fourth. James scored 10 more in the third, Boston went cold again shooting just 27 percent in the period, and Wade’s left-handed bullet pass into the lane set up Joel Anthony for a dunk that pushed the Heat lead to 15 with 10:13 remaining.
“We’ll go back and see what we can do better,” Rivers said. “And we’ll fix it.”
NOTES: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is now 6-0 in Game 1s at home. … James passed Sam Jones (2,909) for 22nd on the NBA’s playoff scoring list with a layup late in the first quarter, and Garnett passed Dirk Nowitzki (1,314) for 22nd on the league’s postseason rebound list. … The Heat left the floor at halftime with a 48-46 lead, then had two points by Anthony taken off after a lengthy reviewed showed he had a basket after the shot clock expired. … Miami F Chris Bosh did a light pregame workout, but still remains out indefinitely with a lower abdominal strain. He was on the Heat bench for the first time in Miami’s last six games.
NBA NOTEBOOK: Chris Bosh is taking steps toward returning to the Miami lineup, though it remains unclear when the Heat will actually see their All-Star forward in uniform again.
Bosh, who has been sidelined since straining a lower abdominal muscle in Game 1 of Miami’s second-round series against Indiana, did what the Heat called a “very light” on-court workout Sunday. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra categorized the session as part of the progression of Bosh’s rehab program and continued to say there’s no target date for his return.
“I wouldn’t over-read into his workout yesterday,” Spoelstra said Monday. “We’ll continue to reevaluate him every day. He’ll continue to do his rehab. When he starts legitimate basketball work, I’ll pay attention a little bit more.”
Miami hosts Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics on Monday night. For now, theCeltics are more concerned with figuring out ways to deal with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Still, Bosh is in the Celtics’ scouting report. And if he’s back at any point in the series, Boston expects to be ready.
“We’re prepared to see him,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. “If he’s able to come back, I mean, that’s great. You never wish any injury amongst your NBA brothers. You expect the best of them. And as a competitor, I don’t mind taking on the opponent team’s best. It brings out the best in you, I think, and it helps prepare you for championship runs.”
Bosh averaged 15 points and 7.2 rebounds in Miami’s first-round series win over the New York Knicks. He had 13 points and five rebounds in the first half of Game 1 against Indiana on May 13, getting hurt just before intermission when he stretched out for a dunk and strained the muscle. An MRI exam a day later confirmed the original diagnosis of a strain.
“His uniform is in his locker and we’ll be ready for him to go,” James said. “Other than that, we’re playing as if he’s not in uniform. It’s allowing us to focus on the guys that are in uniform, and it’s putting less pressure on him to try to rush and get back. It’s a sensitive injury. So whenever he’s ready, he’ll be in uniform.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel said that Bosh’s absence helped Miami — in the sense that it meant more shots for Wade and James, who combined to average 65.7 points in the final three games of the Pacers series.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers shared a similar sentiment Monday.
“Obviously Bosh makes them better,” Rivers said. “But in some ways, you can say they’re more dangerous because now those 15 shots that Bosh had, they’re going to Wade and LeBron. So in some ways, they have the ball more. They’re more aggressive. It almost activated them to be more aggressive, which puts a lot of stress on your defense.”
Bosh averaged 12.8 points and 10.2 rebounds for Miami against the Celtics in last year’s East semifinals, which the Heat won in five games.
“They’re more Wade- and LeBron-dominant without Bosh,” Celtics guard Keyon Dooling said. “Those guys have really picked up slack. So in that aspect, they’re a little bit different. In the rebound category, obviously they miss him. His ability to make shots off of Dwyane’s and LeBron’s pick-and-rolls and stuff is something that’s missed.”