MIAMIThere was no spilled blood or mangled body parts at America Airlines Arena as the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat kicked off the first chapter of what should be yet another brutal annual rivalry Tuesday night that ended with a 120-107 Celtics loss.
It was just the first of many battles to be waged between these foes, but there was no mistaking that this game meant more to all involved than it being just one of 82 games which they have been trying to sell folks on for weeks.
Nobody is buying that.
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The Heat were out to prove that they were a wiser, smarter bunch than the franchise's first title winner in 2006 that opened defense of their crown by getting smashed by the Chicago Bulls in the opener.
And the Celtics were set on establishing that their depth, experience and all those cut-and-paste small ball lineups Doc Rivers can use, would truly be "lethal" in the games that really mattered.
However in their first game, the C's second unit managed to be outscored by the Miami backups, 32-29.
And during a stretch early in the third quarter, Miami pushed its lead to double digits with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the bench.
"That should never happen," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "You can see they're ahead of us in continuity and all that."
And that lack of continuity is among the many reasons why the Celtics, while disappointed, are far from discouraged.
"We're not where we want to be," said C's newcomer Jason Terry. "But we will eventually."
It was refreshing after the game that most of the focus was on the actual game played, and not all the various subplots that had been dissected in the weeks leading up to the season opener.
Aside from a few hard fouls and what appeared to be some lingering hard feelings, the game was relatively free of drama.
The only moments where the tension was clearly noticeable came in the first quarter when Ray Allen tapped the shoulder of Kevin Garnett who was on the C's bench at the time, and Garnett ignored him.
"You guys know KG," Allen told a handful of Boston media. "Did you expect him to react? Kevin, he's an intense competitor. On the bench, he's in a different world; he's in a different zone. The five years I played with him, you have to respect that."
But breaking down whatever reasonsissues KG had for doing - or in this case, not doing anything - is pointless.
The C's have bigger, more important issues to worry about.
Doc Rivers had expressed concerns about his defense throughout the preseason, and they were in full blown, nowhere-to-be-found mode against a Heat team that racked up 93 points in just three quarters.
"That's not who we are; the way we defended tonight," said Paul Pierce.
All those small ball lineups that Doc Rivers loves to unleash, all came up small most of the game.
Jeff Green, arguably the best player for the C's in the preseason, was a non-factor and far too often looked lost, confused and when guarding LeBron James, flat-out abused.
"It all starts on the defensive end," Green said. "I didn't feel I was as aggressive on the defensive end as I should have been."
He wasn't alone.
Defense. Small ball challenges. Lots of first-half turnovers.
Yes, it was the first of 82 regular season games.
But this one means more not because of the outcome, but the opportunity it presents.
"Tonight was a good measuring stick for us," Pierce said. "We played against a team that's the best team in the NBA; they are the champs. There's a good chance for us to see where we're at. We got a lot of work to do. Obviously it's Game 1. We're not going to be the same team. As the year goes on, we understand it's a work in progress."