Paul Pierce, who was ejected in the fourth quarter, didn't have the best of days -- and neither did Boston.
MIAMI -- In November they might’ve had a players only meeting in the showers. In March they might’ve been caught tearing up in the locker room. But on the first day of May, the Miami Heat acted more grown up and emotionally stable than their older and supposedly wiser playoff opponent.
Dwyane Wade’s aggression was needed, James Jones’ great shooting day was crucial and an official’s sudden decision to consider swearing a technical offense didn’t hurt Miami, either. But a central reason the Heat are ahead 1-0 in their series with the Boston Celtics after a 99-90 win is they emerged on Sunday as the more composed team. And that was more than a mild surprise.
The Celtics have long owned a hothead gene and they still rack up more than their share of technical fouls even with Rasheed Wallace retired and Kendrick Perkins traded. As a rule, though, they usually appear mentally stronger and more resilient than their opponents. It’s part of the formula that makes them such a challenging team to beat.
Yet in Game 1, that mantle went to the team playing its second playoff series together, not the one in its 12th. The Heat handled the spurts the Celtics threw at them with unexpected grace, and managed to stay cool when the Celtics repeatedly challenged them in after-the-whistle episodes designed to unhinge and intimidate. The Heat also rebuffed the borderline-dirty plays and general gamesmanship the Celtics frequently try to irritate the other team with.
“They were prepared, they were ready, they played with unbelievable intensity,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I didn’t think we handled that very well.”
The examples littered the game, each seemingly going the Heat’s way.
During a second-quarter Heat run the Celtics were about to call timeout as Delonte West brought the ball up the court. Mario Chalmers attempted to steal the ball as West called timeout. Irked, West went after Chalmers, throwing the ball at him, and was called for a technical as teammates held him back. The Heat got a free point.
After Jones drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game late in the third quarter, Jermaine O’Neal appeared to try to send a message on the Heat’s next offensive possession. As Jones was running through the lane, O’Neal stuck his arm out and knocked him to the floor. Jones walked away. Officials called a flagrant foul. Jones made both free throws and then Mike Bibby hit a 3-pointer as the Heat kept the ball. It was a five-point possession that pushed the Heat's lead at the time from 11 points to 16.
With eight minutes to go in the game, Jones again was involved in a composure play. After a hard foul on Paul Pierce when Jones bit for a pump fake and landed on Pierce on the way down, Jones just stared at the Celtics star without saying a word. Pierce yelled and gave Jones a slight bump with his head. Jones might’ve exaggerated the contact, which ironically is often Pierce’s specialty. Both got technicals but Pierce’s was about to become more costly.
Less than a minute later, Wade slammed into Pierce, who was setting a screen. With the Heat up 13, Wade could afford the offensive foul as a little retaliation for the little head-butt on Jones. Incensed, Pierce reacted with some strong words apparently and was ejected by official Ed Malloy. It was a quick hook and Malloy was the official that had just broken up the previous Jones-Pierce spat. Another double technical, another advantage for the Heat as Pierce was automatically ejected.
“It’s what we call a verbal taunt, he directed profanity towards Wade,” lead official Dan Crawford said after the game in the rare instance when an official explains a call. “In the rule book, that’s a verbal taunt. And it just happened to be Pierce’s second technical foul.”
If it sounds like the Celtics were getting the short end of all of these, well, they were. No, they didn’t like it. No, they aren’t used to it.
“I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team,” said Rivers, who chewed on Malloy for much of the rest of the game. “We were never the first hit team.”
Rivers has an underlying point: the Heat were more sneaky and crafty than the Celtics and he’s not used to that. No one is.
But it wasn’t just the little skirmishes the Heat were able to handle under some duress. They were perhaps more successful in combating the Celtics’ repeated attempts to get back in the game, another tactic Boston can use very well when an opponent lets it.
In the second quarter, the Heat had an 11-point lead only to see Boston rip off a 7-0 run. This was a potential turning point before the Heat executed some smooth offense that got Jones back-to-back 3-pointers to quell it.
This scenario would repeat itself over and over during the afternoon, with the Celtics making a rally and the Heat, often a fragile team during the regular season, turning them back.
A 12-0 run in the third quarter was shut down by three baskets from LeBron James during an 18-10 answer. An emotional 8-0 run in the fourth after the Pierce ejection was swatted away with aggression from Wade and some increased defensive pressure to force Rajon Rondo into turnovers.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had to call some timeouts to collect his team, but they routinely emerged refocused and with a response. Within those moments, Game 1 was turned. How that game-within-the-game plays out as the series continues may end up as a deciding factor.
“We knew coming into the series that there were going to be technicals, there were going to be flagrant fouls,” James said. “Both teams want to win that bad.”