MIAMI -- The long-running trend for the Celtics -- now in their fourth year since acquiring the Big Three -- is that they tend to respond in the biggest games, and Game 2 here Tuesday night is one of those situations. The Celtics don't want to depend on winning four out of five games against a rival contender that is younger, more athletic and possibly hungrier, given the abuse some of its players have suffered against Boston for the last several years.
Apart from the 25 points they received from Ray Allen, the Celtics failed to exploit their weapons throughout Miami's 99-90 victory in the opener. "We were easy to guard," said coach Doc Rivers, while noting that ball movement will be crucial against athletic close-out defenders like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who helped propel Miami among the NBA's top three in the important defensive categories this season.
That means the Celtics need point guard Rajon Rondo to not only avoid the foul trouble that limited him to eight minutes as the Heat ran out to a 51-36 lead at the half, but also to seize command of the game and its pace.
"Defensively, we were very active and it created some opportunities for us in the open court, but also set the tone for us for the game," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've already moved on. We have to put it behind us. I think that showed the professionalism, maturity and experience of our group that there was no celebration because we know how dangerous the Boston Celtics are, particularly in a situation like this."
The Celtics looked like they were in no mood to take control, given the foul trouble of Rondo, an outburst by Delonte West and the alarming ejection of team captain Paul Pierce.
"We've got to do a better job keeping our composure," Pierce said. "Basically, it was me not keeping my composure. Within the rules of the game, I have to do a better job.
"I was more disappointed letting my teammates down. You put yourself in a situation you can control, and it hurts your team. That's what I was most upset about. I can't do that. I'm too important to this team."
After losing three games to Boston through January, the Heat have now won two straight in a three-week span by a combined 32 points. Wade broke out of a season-long slump against the Celtics by clobbering them with 38 points, five assists and two blocks Sunday. He credited film study with helping him to realize where he could find his shots against the Celtics' defense, but Boston maintained it made those shots too easy for him.
"Early in the game he got those easy buckets that we talk about not allowing him to have," Allen said. "That got his confidence going, and then he makes a couple of tough ones. He made some threes where he was wide open. At the end of the day there was some defensive breakdowns, but you have to give him credit."
By halftime Wade and James Jones (25 points for the game overall on 5-of-7 shooting, all from the three-point line) had combined to outscore the Celtics 38-36. One reason the Heat ranked No. 2 in shooting this season (48.1 percent) was because James and Wade draw excessive attention from defenses, and in turn are excellent passers who can find the open man. The Celtics can't afford to focus on Jones as the main role-player threat, as Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas can hurt them with jumpers, too.
Just as important for Miami, it was able to maintain control of Game 1 without big offensive numbers from James (22 points, five assists) or Chris Bosh (seven points, 12 rebounds).
"I think I did a good job," Bosh said. "We won the game, I rebounded the ball and I didn't make too many mistakes on defense. I'm not really worried about my offense."
The Celtics will be looking for a more aggressive performance from Kevin Garnett after he provided a minimal Game 1 return of six points on nine shots with three assists. They need him to win his matchup against Bosh.
"We look at the things we didn't do offensively," Allen said. "We didn't execute, take our time or have patience. Then it just snowballs.
"We didn't have any patience. We don't want to allow them to get out in transition. We want to take the easy baskets away from them. We want to limit their threes. We didn't set a tone."
The easiest way to tell if the Celtics are positioning to steal home-court advantage in Game 2 will be to watch Rondo early. If he is attacking the seams and creating open shots for Pierce, Garnett and Allen, the Celtics should give themselves a chance to make up for their opening loss. The unlikely question is whether the elder team can show the patience expected of it -- or whether the pressure created by Miami's athleticism and hard work is too much for the Celtics to overcome.
"I thought [Rondo] and Kevin played the game in thought, instead of instinctively," Rivers said. "They were thinking about what they should do instead of just playing. Those two guys probably have the best instincts on our team. Rondo tried to attack too much at the beginning of the game, and we just never got into our offense."
He sounded as if he believed they could overcome those mistakes in judgment. Add to that the possibility of Shaquille O'Neal's returning for Game 2, which could make a huge difference at both ends of the floor, and there is much to anticipate in a series that is just beginning to lift off.