BOSTON | LeBron James’ Miami Heat looked an awful lot like LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Heat fizzled in the debut of their superstar threesome on Tuesday night, scoring just nine points in their first quarter of the season and falling behind the Celtics by 15 points at halftime. Then, James took over — just like he was forced to so many times in Cleveland — but his 21 second-half points weren’t enough to prevent Boston from winning 88-80.
“This is one of 82,” said Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s incumbent star. “I’m sorry if everybody thought we were going to go 82-0. It just ain’t happening.”
The Celtics knocked the Heat out of the playoffs last season, and one round later eliminated James and the Cavaliers for the second time in three years. Thus began one of the most tumultuous summers in NBA history, culminating in James’ decision to leave Cleveland and join Chris Bosh and Wade in Miami.
But even with their three-star lineup, the Heat were unable to win their much-anticipated debut against the defending Eastern Conference champions. More disturbing: They couldn’t do much of anything until James, who was supposed to have more help in Miami than he did in Cleveland, simply took over the game.
James scored 15 points in the third quarter, making 2 of 3 from 3-point range as an outside threat and 5 of 6 from the line after picking up fouls on drives to the basket. He took seven of the team’s 13 shots in the quarter, and Miami cut a 19-point deficit to 63-57.
“We knew we wouldn’t necessarily hit on all cylinders right away,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When we got close and started grinding, that was more of his competitive nature the second half.”
But James missed three 3-point tries in the fourth as the Heat failed to claw their way back and the sold-out TD Garden crowd began serenading the alleged superteam with chants of “Overrated!” Wade finished with 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting, and Bosh had eight points, making 3-of-11 shots.
“It’s going to take time, and we understand that,” James said. “I think right now it’s a feel-out process. It almost felt like we were being too unselfish, trying to get each other into the game.”
In what might have been the most anticipated regular-season game in NBA history, Miami scored just nine first-quarter points — fewer than its much less-talented roster scored in any quarter last season; same with James and the Cavaliers, for that matter.
True, it’s only one game.
But it’s an early reminder that paper talent doesn’t always translate into a winning team, especially when superstars and their egos are involved. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were able to do it in Boston from the start, winning their first eight games in 2007-08 and 29 of their first 32 en route to the franchise’s 17th NBA title.
“We know it isn’t going to be easy. The first half was an indication of that,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not a reason to panic right now. … I already imagine we’ll be much better tomorrow.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers fears that Spoelstra is right.
“They’re going to be great,” he said. “They’ll be much better. Hopefully, we will, too.”
The sold-out crowd — a single ticket in the luxury suites was listed at $18,824 a few hours before the game — booed James virtually every time he touched the ball and delighted in Miami’s early struggles.
But that was no different from when he with the Cavaliers.
“I actually felt like I was in the playoffs. It had the same feeling, that same energy,” said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who scored 20 points. “That’s how it was coming into the building today.”
And James left it feeling the same way.
Returning to the building where his Cleveland career ended, James avoided questions about the controversial summer in which he became the NBA’s biggest villain except to say, “It was pretty long.”
“I’m at a point where I’m looking forward to playing the games,” he said before the tip-off. “I’m excited about this new start. I’m excited about this season. I’m excited about this team and this franchise. I’m excited to get it going in a city where (I’ve) struggled.”
Since signing with the Heat, James has become beloved in Miami.
And he remains a respected rival in Boston.
But he’s still hated back in Ohio.
A radio host in Cleveland hired a witch doctor to try to jinx James and his attempt to win a title elsewhere. WMMS-FM broadcast the ceremony on Tuesday morning, claiming to use bones, blood and a James jersey to cast a curse on the two-time MVP.
Spoelstra said that the attention — neither good nor bad — wouldn’t affect his team.
“We’re not running away from the attention, the expectations or the pressure,” he said. “We feel like we’re getting attacked on all sides, but once you step on the court, it all just goes away.”
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