Keeping Score

LeBron’s Heat Debut: Lukewarm

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NBA fans, repeat after me: the Boston Celtics have four All-Stars, and Shaq. The Boston Celtics have four All-Stars, and Shaq. The Boston Celtics have four All-Stars . . . and friggin’ Shaq.

It was only the season opener, but Boston’s 88-80 win over the Miami Heat last night proved that a Big Five – plus talented bench players like Glen “Big Baby” Davis – trumps a Big Three every night of the week. After LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined forces in South Beach this summer, we all breathlessly wondered if these three young superstars, in the prime of their careers, would ever lose a game. And we all quickly forgot that Boston is blessed with a team that features Paul Pierce and Ray Allen – a duo that has made millions of clutch three-pointers over their long, fruitful, championship careers – the insane intensity of Kevin Garnett, the understated guidance of point guard Rajon Rondo, and now, Shaquille O’Neal, an aging a mass who can still put the ball in the basket. (Read more about LeBron’s Decision.)

So it shouldn’t come as a shock that the Celtics dominated the first half, and held Miami to a measly 35 points with seven minutes to go in the third quarter. After all, beyond James, Wade, and Bosh, Miami’s roster is shakier than a dice player. LeBron scored 15 third quarter points to close the gap; bottom line, no player, when he’s charging at a defense from half-court, is quite as unstoppable as LeBron, whether his talents reside in Cleveland, South Beach, or the South Pole. But with under a minute to play, and Miami trailing by three points, Allen buried a corner three that killed the Heat rally.

LeBron scored 31 points on 10-21 shooing, which would be considered a successful Heat debut if he didn’t also turn the ball over eight times. Nerves, perhaps? Wade, who looked a bit rusty after returning from a hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of the preseason, scored just 13 points while hitting four of 16 shots from the field. He also committed a ghastly six turnovers. Bosh, the third wheel in this whole Miami Thrice dynamic, played like it: he went 3-11 from the field and scored just 8 points, one less than old man Shaq.  (See why Shaq’s Twitter feed is so great.)

In all, Heat fans shouldn’t panic. Their team will be a force. But they should worry about Miami’s lack of creativity on offense. Miami coach Eric Spoelstra, who many experts believe is keeping the bench warm until Heat president Pat Riley makes his inevitable return to the sideline, has three weapons at his disposal that every hoops coach in America dreams about. Move them around. Let them feed off each other. Make the court your laboratory. But don’t let them all stand around, stagnant. This James-Wade-Bosh team should never be boring. But if last night was any indication . . . when are the Celtics playing again?

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