Posted Oct 26 2010 11:56PM - Updated Oct 27 2010 8:24AM
BOSTON -- Leaping to any conclusions about the radically new Miami Heat -- or the mostly old Boston Celtics, for that matter -- based on a sample size of one game in an NBA season is like believing exit poll results that trickle in next Tuesday at 6:07 a.m.
Might as well go "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" a few frames past the opening credits, judge a book by its proverbial cover or install game-show buzzers in the jury box to acquit or convict as soon as the first mouthpiece clears his throat.
We're all living in an instant-gratification, snap-judgment culture, but The Verdict on LeBron James and his new team is going to require a lot more time and input than The Decision. At least this will be more interesting. And endurable.
"Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0," Dwyane Wade said after Boston's 88-80 victory Tuesday night at TD Garden in the NBA's 2010-11 season opener. "It just ain't happening."
Rome, James reminded reporters afterward, wasn't built in a day. But why stop there? It took nearly a week to create the heavens and the Earth, so considering the Heat's ambitions and the sports world's expectations, it figures that a little more gym and film time might benefit these guys between now and, oh, let's give them till November at least.
Rushing to judgment, not to mention sarcasm and snark among the Twitterati, was great fun for a while Tuesday, particularly when the Next Big Thing amassed all of nine points in the first quarter. When Boston's lead ballooned to 41-22 late in the first half -- thanks to Shaquille (Win A Ring For The King) O'Neal sinking his first two free throws as a Celtic -- and 53-34 early in the second, you could imagine the beery jubilance breaking out in sports bars across northeast Ohio.
But reveling as Miami bumped along its learning curve felt a little hollow, and empty, and stupid. Six-year-old cyclists aren't wimpy when they actually need their training wheels and future NBA championship contenders -- even the love-them-or-hate-them variety that the Heat figure to become -- aren't failures for struggling a month into their collective existence.
However astonishingly or distastefully it came to be, these guys have been together about a minute and a half. Who trades in a new car halfway home from the showroom? And no, there isn't a For Sale sign in front of Eric Spoelstra's house yet.
"What I told the team was, it was going to be a process like this," said Spoelstra, who either is remarkably self-assured given the stakes of all this or a master thespian in appearing so. "I know there are a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure out there, but we have our own timetable. ... I already imagine we'll be much better tomorrow."
Ouch. That's some serious developmental whiplash. But the fact is, after reserve James Jones hit a flat-footed 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 68-64 with eight minutes left, the building got as quiet as if Cleveland were in town with James on a roll or Wade had caught fire for last year's Heat. Only now Miami had both of them, and Chris Bosh to boot. All mocking ceased.
Let's face it, if there was going to be any clash in this series in which Boston figured to have the Heat's number, this one was it. The Celtics were at home, their old legs as fresh as they'll be all season, with most of their pieces in place for more than three years now and determined not to get marginalized so soon by these insta-team upstarts. Did I type f-r-e-s-h? Since bringing together Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in July 2007, the Celtics are 72-10 in games played before Christmas.
Miami, by contrast, was playing in a hostile environment, had been thrown together on the fly and remains all parts, no whole. Wade in particular still was hobbled by a hamstring injury that wiped out his preseason.
And still it came down to the last eight minutes, to Glenn Davis rumbling inside for a layup, to a pancaked Pierce returning from a collision with James to sink two clutch shots from the arc and, at the end of a solid possession with less than a minute left, to Allen draining a 3-pointer from the right corner as James soared at him. That made it 86-80.
Without being too impulsive, here are a few things we did learn quickly about the wannabe Best Team Ever:
• Sharing the ball won't be a problem. If anything, Miami's guys are like four drivers stopped at an intersection, everyone gridlocked because no one wants to over-assert against the others. "It's something I'm not accustomed to, having that many threats out on the court," James said. "It kind of reminded me [of the Team] USA practices. Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] really had to get on us one day because we were being too unselfish."
• Wade will be getting healthier and better quite soon. He shot 4-for-16 but still looked capable of getting to the foul line at will, half-limp or not. "No, he'll be much better," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Hopefully, we will too."
• James, for all the talk and development of his low-post game, still will stick to the perimeter and run Miami's attack on many nights. There was a stretch in the third quarter when it looked as if he still were with the Cavs, dominating individually with a meager supporting cast. Keep in mind that approach won 61 times last season.
• Point guard and, especially, the center spot are potential Achilles heels for this team. A Goliath-sized one up front, in fact, when Miami has to go against bigger teams. Zydrunas Ilgauskas doesn't have the juice for heavy minutes and Bosh, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem lack bulk, height or both.
• They're going to miss Mike Miller until his busted thumb heals as much as, or more than, the Celtics are going to miss center Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery). Miller is more than just a marksman of considerable range. But as Spoelstra might put it, he'll be healthier tomorrow than he was today, and having their best crew ready for springtime is the goal anyway.
• Doubters better enjoy this toddler stage of the Heat. There were moments when, just noticing anew that James and Wade were on the same floor and on the same side, was stunning. Jarring. Gluttonous and unfair, too, and most certainly overkill, in an especially lethal way. If those two somehow can learn to complement each other like the attack Dobermans that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were for more than a decade together ...
The Celtics, by comparison, were old dogs doing old tricks -- stretches of stifling defense, timely 3-pointers and a mental strength that brought them home Tuesday. But change is coming.
"You could see that they haven't necessarily polished or got the whole chemistry thing down," Garnett said. "For them to get better, they're going to have to go through rough days and dog days, and that's part of it. Lord knows we went through ours and we learned from it, and I'm pretty sure they'll do the same."
So be snarky now if you favor one of the other 29 besides Miami. But be afraid later.
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