MIAMI – Like LeBron James before him, Ray Allen made the right decision.
The former Celtics star was welcomed to his new home arena Tuesday, welcomed with thunderous cheers rivaling those bestowed upon the reigning MVP, welcomed into the Heat offense with set plays that showed his strengths, and welcomed by former teammate Kevin Garnett with one of the colder snubs you’ll see all season. By the time he scored his first points with his new Miami team, it was pretty clear where Allen belonged at the end of his great career.
Late in the first quarter, Allen walked over to the Celtics bench on his way into the game to greet his old mates, but Garnett, who claimed over the summer he had lost Allen’s phone number, didn’t respond. When Allen patted him on the shoulder, Garnett shrugged like a fly had buzzed in his left ear.
After the game, Garnett explained that he’s “an intense person” and he was “just trying to play the game, man.”
The new Heat guard was hardly rattled by the cold shoulder. Only moments later, he received a baseline pass from Norris Cole and dropped a three-pointer. The crowd, which had given him a standing ovation when he got up from the bench to check in, exploded.
“You can live with LeBron and Wade making shots,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game, “But the first play Ray’s on the floor, we leave him alone. You’d think we’d know better.”
The Celtics looked out of sorts or out of patience all night. They were physical in all the wrong ways, delivering questionable fouls and yielding 54.4 percent shooting from the floor in a 120-107 loss that looked more lopsided than the score showed. The Heat continued its playoff pattern of refusing to engage when opponents bait them, and it made their rivals seem immature by comparison. Even in the last 20 seconds of the game, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo lowered a forearm across the neck of the Heat’s Dwyane Wade during a drive and got a flagrant foul. Wade did nothing in return, but he blasted the “punk play” afterward. Hearing that, Rondo said, “Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.”
The bickering couldn’t overshadow Allen, whose storyline all but overshadowed even the raising of a championship banner. It wasn’t clear until the game began just how well the 37-year-old would fit on the youthful Heat. He can take a shot, verbal or otherwise, and shrug it off like it’s nothing. Before the game, he sat alone in his locker after a day making calls to friends back in Connecticut who lost power because of Tropical Storm Sandy. Asked if he was nervous to start on a new club against his old team, he said he was “always nervous” before games. He sure didn’t show it. He even said he shared the Heat’s excitement at getting their rings even though Miami had ousted him and his then-teammates only a few months prior.
“He’s a true professional,” James said, and that was the case well after the game, as he refused to rip Garnett even when given the chance. “You guys know [Garnett],” Allen told reporters. “Did you expect him to react?”
On TV, Allen was even more gracious, praising Celtics players and fans and saying he was still “a New Englander at heart.”
Allen was that sure and smooth all night, scoring 19 and flowing seamlessly in an offense that was already good enough last year to win a title. He not only hit his patented outside shot, but he got into the lane as well – something the Heat did effectively in the playoffs last season. Allen and the Heat looked fresh and hungry; Garnett and the Celtics looked old and bitter. A matchup between NBA powers that so recently brimmed with vigor now seems like a torch already passed.
It even seems like a torch has passed between cities. Heat fans showed up unusually early, flowing into the American Airlines Arena as much to see as be seen. They wanted to watch James get his ring, and watch the team get its banner. They wanted to see Allen in his new uniform. The place bubbled with energy and motion so typical of the Celtics’ home arena. Nobody can say Heat fans are as tried and true as Celtics fans, but at the beginning of its 25th season, Miami sure felt like an NBA city Tuesday.
It was an emotional night for both fans and players. It certainly was for Allen, and it was too for James, who finally got his crown jewel after so many years of what seemed like worldwide doubt. But both Allen and James put their energy into chemistry, strong play, and winning. James had 26 points, 10 rebounds, and zero turnovers. Meanwhile, the Celtics couldn’t figure out how to handle their emotions, and that showed just as clearly.
“When we went on runs, they kept their composure,” Rivers said. “When they went on runs, we didn’t do as well with our composure.”
That pretty much says it all.
It’s only one game, and it’s a long season, and these two teams still seemed destined to see each other in May or June, but one thing is very clear after only 60 minutes.
Ray Allen is home.
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