The Boston Celtics can still accomplish what they set out to do in South Florida in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the odds are long unless Doc Rivers' club can curb some of the production coming from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
James had 32 points and 13 rebounds on Monday as the Miami Heat handled the Celtics, 93-79, in Game 1 of the set. Wade added 22 points and seven assists for Miami, which never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 17.
Shane Battier scored 10 points, Mario Chalmers had nine and Mike Miller finished with eight for the Heat.
"We didn't play our best game and we just want to continue to get better throughout the series," said James. "It's a good sign...but we understand we didn't have our best game tonight."
The Heat persevered again without forward Chris Bosh, who remains out with a strained abdominal muscle. They have won four straight games without their All-Star big man, including three in a row against the Pacers to clinch a second straight conference finals appearance. There is no timetable for Bosh's return.
Kevin Garnett had 23 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1 to pace Boston, which got past Philadelphia in seven games to advance. Rajon Rondo, the catalyst in the series-clinching win against the Sixers, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists on Monday. Paul Pierce scored just 12 points on just 5-of-18 shooting thanks in large part to the defense of James.
The Celtics scored 35 points in the second quarter, which proved to be their most productive stretch of the game -- they scored 11 in the opening frame and 33 in the entire second half.
Additionally, they shot 59.1 percent in the second quarter, compared to 39.5 percent mark for the game, while getting eight points from both Pierce and Rondo. A pair of late 3s by Pierce tied the game, 46-46, at the break, but the Heat effectively pulled away with a dominant third quarter.
Specifically, it was James, who is averaging 29.3 points per game in this postseason, and Wade who took over. The reigning MVP scored 10 points in the quarter while Wade had six and facilitated brilliantly, finding James with an outlet pass and later with a leaping assist in the paint, as Miami pushed its lead to double digits.
"I thought in the second quarter we executed offensively...I thought we started competing. Then in the third quarter the game just got away from us," said Rivers. "I thought we rushed. I thought our offense was rushed."
The Celtics trailed, 82-70, with around five minutes left when James drained a stepback, one-footed bank shot -- mimicking a bucket Wade had earlier in the frame. The Heat then cruised from there.
"I think we're doing a good job of playing off each other," said Wade. "Both being aggressive at the same time, also understanding when another guy has certain matchups that he can expose."
The C's felt slighted by what they described as showboating by James late in the win but that could be grasping at straws and Rivers focused more on what he thought was shoddy defense.
"There wasn't a lot of happy guys in our locker room yesterday or in film today when we start out by showing 19 straight layups," Rivers said on Tuesday. "Who wants to watch that? I didn't. I watched it four or five times."
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, on the other hand, focused on the fact that the Heat can play even better.
"I think we all felt that we could have played better," Spoelstra said. "We weren't as sharp as we had been, particularly in the three games before that. But that's the playoffs. You have to find a way to survive and win, even if you have to do it when you're not playing your best, like last night."
On the injury front for Boston, veteran guard Ray Allen has been dealing a balky right ankle for weeks, and was just 1-of-7 from the floor in Game 1 with four missed four free throws, prompting Rivers to consider sitting the ailing sharpshooter. But, with Avery Bradley already done for the season after shoulder surgery, his options are limited.
"Ray is Ray, and we're going to keep rolling him out there and see what we can get," Rivers said. "If we feel he can't give it to us, we'll go with someone else. But I think right now you have to give Ray a fighting chance every time."
Boston had some success against the Heat in the regular season, winning three of four, including one in South Florida.
This is the third straight season that the Heat and Celtics are meeting in the playoffs. Boston won in five games in 2010 in the first round and the Heat won in five last year in the semifinals.
Game 3 of the set is scheduled for Friday in Boston.