MIAMI -- In the fourth quarter of their season-opening win over the Celtics, the Heat were without LeBron James, who sat out with leg cramps. But even if the planet’s best basketball player were in the game and healthy, it’s a good bet he wouldn’t have been able to stop ...
OK, that’s certainly a stretch. But LeBron on the floor or not, 120-107 loss or not, the Celtics were pleased to get an outstanding late push from Barbosa, who played every minute of the fourth and scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-3 from downtown.
With Barbosa playing in a small lineup that included Rajon Rondo and Jason Terry, the Celtics trimmed a 19-point Heat lead to four with two minutes remaining. Barbosa hit his first six shots, and Boston had the Heat’s championship victory lap temporarily stalled.
Call him de Microondas. The Microwave. The Brazilian was instant offense for the C’s in the fourth, one of few bright spots in a disappointing opening-night effort.
“He was terrific,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “If you're getting into a scoring contest and Barbosa's on the floor, you're going to feel pretty good about it.”
Barbosa, who signed with the Celtics less than three weeks ago for the veteran’s minimum, is a former sixth man of the year. He’s used to coming off the bench and attacking. In an already loaded backcourt that’s still without defender Avery Bradley, Barbosa proved in Game 1 he’s another flexible piece for Rivers to use.
Most importantly, he was assertive on a night in which many Celtics were far less than that. He scored nine points over a 2:02 stretch, giving Boston a spark it desperately needed.
“He's clearly not scared of the moment,” Rivers said. “He bailed us out. We got back in that game down the stretch, and it was because Barbosa was on the floor.”
Forward Brandon Bass also made the most of his opportunity. Bass, who started along with guard Courtney Lee, Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, hauled in 11 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass, and put up 15 points in just over 28 minutes. While Rivers said Bass needs to talk more defensively, the seventh-year man made his presence felt.
“Hell, he should have played 40 minutes,” Rivers said. “You know? Because I thought he was one of the aggressive ones.”
There were other Boston positives. Jason Terry had a second-quarter stretch where he scored eight straight, cutting Miami’s lead to 40-36. Lee, whose night was otherwise forgettable (11 points, 5 fouls), shot 5-of-6 and played strong on-ball defense against Dwyane Wade.
Whether it was the new pieces they were fitting in -- five of the nine Celtics in Tuesday's rotation didn't play for Boston last year -- or a classic case of nerves, Miami “took the fight to us most of the night,” Rivers said.
“I thought they were the more physical team, I thought they were mentally tougher than us, and I thought when we made our runs, I thought they kept their composure. When they made their runs, we weren't very good with keeping our composure.”
When the Celtics were shooting, shots were falling. They hit 52 percent from the floor, including 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) on 3-pointers. But Pierce (23 points) and especially Garnett (9 points, 12 rebounds) never sustained offensive output, while Rondo (20 points, 13 assists in a game-high 43:33) was frustrated with his team’s lack of flow.
“I look at the number 107 [points] and 52 percent [shooting], but I know as a coach, our continuity offensively was horrendous,” Rivers said. “We never got to the second and third option, and it's not because of their defense. We didn't allow ourselves to. We didn't trust it. We broke it down a lot. That’s going to take time.”
The Celtics outrebounded Miami, 41-36. The turnover edge went decidedly to the Heat (15 to 8), plus the Heat had five blocks to Boston’s two, eight steals to Boston’s four, and pressed the issue all night long.
And it assuredly would have been worse had LeBron been in the game.
“I don't think either coach would be real happy,” Rivers said. “For two defensive teams, I thought it was a bunch of fool's gold offense. Both teams went ultra-small and tried to attack.”
The problem with that, Rivers added, was Miami attacked the whole game, while Boston’s charges were few and far between.