Posted May 1 2011 6:54PM - Updated May 1 2011 9:05PM
MIAMI -- It was what most concerned the Celtics, that the big three from the Heat would be tough to defend in Game 1. In this instance, however, that's the big three, lowercase.
As in, the daggers dropped on them by James Jones from deep.
This was not a pretty game to open a much-anticipated second-round series. But it was pretty unexpected. Yes, when Rajon Rondo gets locked up early by Mike Bibby -- have those words ever been typed before? -- and disappears, when Kevin Garnett is good for three buckets, and when the damaging 3-point shots come not from Ray Allen but Ray Allen Lite, then you get Heat 99, Celtics 90, and very little drama.
Jones hit five of his seven shots taken from 3-point range, and that doesn't begin to describe his impact. After Jones hit his third shot, the Celtics were giving him the same respect reserved for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This is a player, mind you, who averaged only seven points in the first round against Philly. And who, at best, was Miami's No. 6 option all season.
Also, while the game was perhaps over by the midway pint of the fourth quarter, the Celtics had to make do without Paul Pierce. His ejection with seven minutes left didn't help.
Wade crashed into a pick set by Pierce, who exchanged words. Both were hit with technicals, and it was the second for Pierce and an automatic thumb.
Here's crew chief Dan Crawford:
"It's what we call a verbal taunt. He directed profanity towards Wade. And in the rulebook, that is a verbal taunt."
Pierce refused to comment after the game. Wade said Pierce used "a bunch of gibberish" which, we are to assume, contained some concise four-letter words.
A case could be made that Pierce shouldn't have been ejected at all; his "crime" was a borderline technical. Or that Pierce should've been thumbed a minute earlier, when he threw the softest head-butt you'll ever see -- but a head-butt (nose-butt?) nonetheless -- after getting a rough foul from Jones.
Crawford: "He approached Jones and got right in his face. There wasn't a head-butt, but he got right into his face after a hard foul."
Regardless, Pierce became unraveled without being harshly provoked. That should never happen to a veteran, especially one with as much postseason experience as Pierce. Perhaps he got sucked into the pre-game rhetoric, with Wade and LeBron explaining how much they "hate" losing to the Celtics. Or maybe it was the beating the Celtics were taking at the time, administered partly by Jones, whose 25 points were a big and unexpected bonus for Miami.
Anyway, the Celtics were without one of their weapons for the stretch run, costly considering Boston was, in a sense, already without Rondo.
"I thought both were flagrant fouls," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "They were not called. Instead of walking away like we should've done, we reacted, like they wanted us to do."
Some quick hits:
• Rondo must be on the floor. Clearly, he's the difference-maker in the series because of his obvious advantage over the point guards thrown his way by Miami. Still, Rondo played only eight minutes in the first half when dogged by three fouls. The game got out of hand and the Celtics never really recovered. As he showed in the first round against the Knicks, and all last summer, Rondo makes the Celtics roll. But he was hassled by Bibby, never found a groove and finished with only eight points, seven assists and five turnovers.
The player most affected was Garnett, who took only nine shots, scored six points and wasn't a factor against Chris Bosh.
"Those two guys have the best instincts on our team," said Rivers. "They both played with the right spirit, it just didn't go well."
• Wade was bent on breaking through against Boston. Wade was concealed and controlled by the Celtics in the regular-season series, when he averaged a measly 12.8 points on 28 percent shooting. But Wade was aggressive from the start and seemed determined to change that. He scored 23 of his 25 points in the first half .
"I wasn't giving it to (the Celtics) in the regular season," said Wade. "My guys were dependant on me."
Rivers: "That's why he's the second-greatest player to come out of Marquette."
• Jones is doing what Mike Miller and Bibby can't. That is, hit the open jumper. Miller played eight minutes and was, in a word, awful. And another word: scared. He did whatever possible to avoid shooting, treating the ball like a hot match and getting rid of it quickly, sometimes forcing passes that became turnovers. Bibby, too, lacked confidence and passed up jumpers. There's nothing worse than a shooter who's afraid to shoot. He's little to no use to his team.
At least the Heat had Jones, who looked like he was back at the Long Distance Shootout at All-Star Weekend. If you recall, he beat Ray Allen and Pierce in that contest, and both Celtics were admittedly embarrassed to lose to someone who's a decent shooter but not in their league from a career or reputation standpoint. When the Celtics began to run at Jones in Game 1, they wound up fouling often and sent Jones to the line 10 times, and he didn't miss.
"A lot of that was us, but I don't care if you make a mistake defensively or not, the guy still has to make it," said Rivers. "And he made them."
• This was Miami's game to lose. So there was more of a burden on the Heat than the Celtics. It was the Heat who lost three of four games during the regular season, who must measure themselves against the defending East champs, and who own home-court advantage. A Celtics' win on Tuesday will erase any stink from Game 1.
"We'll study film and see what we need to do better and come out ready," vowed Garnett.
• Udonis Haslem and Shaquille O'Neal must really be hurting. Or else they would've played in Game 1. As a result, can the Celtics and Heat really expect much from either player? Shaq hasn't played much in three months while Haslem hasn't suited up since November. That's a lot of rust and cobwebs to shake, if they do return this series. Miami probably needs Haslem more than the Celtics need Shaq.
"We'll continue to evaluate and work him," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "But he's not there yet."
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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