The Big 3 starts and ends with LeBron James

LeBron JamesJim Rogash/Getty Images Sport

The Big 3 weren't nearly as effective as the Big 1 on Tuesday.

It’s been said that single game plus/minus numbers are the ultimate story stat. It captures a game’s narrative better than any single traditional box score stat.

And for the Heat, minus-8 says it all. To elaborate, the Heat were outscored by 8 points when the Big 3 played together in their first regular season game. And in an 88-80 loss, that means the Heat, with the trio disassembled, were actually even with the Eastern Conference champion Celtics.

This isn’t what was supposed to happen. Wade ushered LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami to create the ultimate superteam, not the ultimate misfits. But in their season opener at TD Bank Garden, the vaunted trio of James, Wade, and Bosh never demonstrated the seamless synergy that we heard about all offseason. Instead, the nearly 30 minutes that the triumvirate shared together could only be described as uninspiring.

“In practice, it’s looked a lot different than this,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And they’ve looked terrific playing together. I think everybody was just a little bit anxious and wanting to make it work so much.”

As the primary ballhandler for most of the opener, James deserves some of the blame. Sure, Wade and Bosh’s utter futility will grab headlines but it was James who sets the tone for the Miami team. After looking like an unstoppable force in the preseason, James opened the regular season fully engaged in passive mode. Rather than aggressively attacking the rim, James settled for long twos; his first four shots of 2010-11 came outside 19 feet but inside the 3-point line.

The surrounding talent he so longed for in Cleveland ironically ended up stifling his explosive game.

“I think right now it’s a feel-out process,” James said. “I talked to those guys, it almost felt like we were being too unselfish to get each other into the flow of the game. The reason we’re here and the reason we’ve been successful is because we’ve put ourselves in a position to be aggressive at all times no matter who’s on the court.”

Not coincidentally, LeBron and the Heat took off when Bosh and Wade hit the bench. Instead of deferring to his teammates and only taking what the defense gave him, James took the game over and single-handedly created offense like no one else in the NBA can. When 17 minutes and 51 seconds goes by before James takes his first free throw in a game, something’s off.

The key for the Heat and James going forward will be to appreciate that his selfishness actually unleashes his playmaking abilities. When James attacks the basket, he lures the attention of the opponents and forces them to collapse. And that’s when LeBron’s unselfish gene kicks in and his court awareness leads to the open man. In many ways, LeBron’s selfishness breeds the unselfishness that will lift his teammates to new heights.

But give the Celtics defense credit. Boston’s strategy was unmistakable from the opening tip: pack it in and coerce LeBron James to settle for a half-decent shot on the perimeter.