MIAMI: A big early Miami lead was wasted. Once the Heat took control again, they simply ran away from the Boston Celtics.
And the NBA Finals are now three wins away for LeBron James and the Heat.
James scored 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and the Heat beat the Celtics 93-79 on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Shane Battier, playing in the conference finals for the first time, scored 10 points and had 10 rebounds for the Heat, who wasted an early 11-point, first-half lead before running away to break a halftime tie. Miami outrebounded the Celtics 48-33 and blocked 11 Boston shots.
Kevin Garnett scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from Rajon Rondo and 12 points from Paul Pierce.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Miami.
It’s the third consecutive year the Heat and Celtics have met in the playoffs, the third consecutive year James has seen his postseason path go through Boston as well — the first of those matchups coming in 2010, his final run with Cleveland.
Each of those came in the first or second rounds, never one round away from the NBA Finals.
And while both sides would say there’s a long way to go in this series, Game 1 winners have a decided edge in any best-of-seven series, the conference final being no exception. In the most recent 10 postseasons, teams with 1-0 leads in conference finals have advanced 15 out of 20 times. One of the five instances of a team rallying from a one-game deficit was last year, when Miami ousted Chicago in five games.
Last season’s Miami-Boston series ended with James scoring the final 10 points of Game 5, and the start of this year’s matchup had him putting on another offensive display.
He had 13 points in the first quarter — two more than the entire Celtics roster — and Miami ran out to a 21-11 lead after the opening quarter. Garnett made three of his four shots in the quarter, while everyone else in Boston green was 2-for-16 from the floor.
The 11 points matched the lowest output by any team in the opening quarter this postseason. The other team to manage that few was San Antonio, which then dropped 32 on the Los Angeles Clippers in the second quarter of their game on May 19. The Celtics’ response was even better.
Boston scored 35 in the second quarter, erasing what was an 11-point deficit early in the quarter by scoring 27 points in the final 8:46 of the half to pull into a 46-all tie. Rondo, Garnett and Pierce combined to score 23 points in the quarter, looking absolutely vintage, near-perfect offensive execution getting to Miami time and time again. And the Celtics’ comeback happened even while they got hit with three technical fouls in the second quarter, plus Allen missing four first-half free throws — matching his career worst for an entire game.
In the end, it went down as merely a one-quarter lapse for Miami.
Another technical foul, this one on Rondo, came in the third quarter, likely born from frustration as the Heat started to roll again.
With the score tied at 50, Rondo missed three shots in a 31-second span early in the third, the last of those getting blocked by Battier — who hit a 3-pointer 11 seconds later. It started a 9-2 Miami burst, including a touchdown pass from Wade to James — Wade grabbed the rebound of a miss by Pierce, spun and delivered a 90-foot pass to the reigning MVP — for an easy score.
Miami led by as many as 13 late in the third before taking a 72-61 lead into the fourth. James scored 10 more in the third, Boston went cold again shooting just 27 percent in the quarter, and Wade’s left-handed bullet pass into the lane set up Joel Anthony for a dunk that pushed the Heat lead to 15 with 10:13 remaining.