The last time the Boston Celtics played a game that truly
counted, they had to endure a Miami Heat celebration.
New season, same deal.
Only this time, the party will come before tip-off – not after
the final horn.
LeBron James gets his long-awaited first championship ring
Tuesday night, when the Heat pay homage to last season’s NBA title
with a pregame banner-raising ceremony. Dwyane Wade will get his
second ring, Heat President Pat Riley his eighth, and the party is
the prequel to a Celtics-Heat rematch of last season’s Eastern
Conference finals that went seven games before Miami advanced.
”We’ll honor and respect what we were able to accomplish before
the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
There’s another major story line, of course. It’s the first time
the Celtics will face Ray Allen as an opponent since he left Boston
over the summer and signed with Miami, a decision that his former
coach and teammates were most unhappy about.
”It’s just another basketball game,” Celtics guard Rajon Rondo
No, it isn’t.
Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that much. After all,
”If we win, do we get a trophy? We get one win and that’s it,”
Rivers said. ”And if we lose, which we don’t want to do, we get
one loss and it doesn’t mean we still can’t win it. But at the end
of the day, we’re all human. … These games, they don’t really
have more meaning, but they do have more meaning.”
It’s the first marquee game of the season, but not actually the
first game of the season. That distinction goes to the
Washington-Cleveland matchup, which starts on the Cavaliers’ home
floor about an hour before Heat-Celtics.
The NBA’s three-game opening slate concludes in Los Angeles,
where the revamped Lakers – now with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard
to play alongside Kobe Bryant – play host to the Dallas
In Miami, there have been a slew of upgrades at the arena over
the summer – slightly different looks here and there, a new
nightclub and restaurant, more concessions and bars for
ticketholders to enjoy. The Heat will even offer fans the chance to
purchase championship-ring-related merchandise, designed in the
same manner as the players’ title-reward jewelry.
The upgrades extend to what’s going to be on the court as
Miami kept its championship rotation intact, while adding Allen
and Rashard Lewis to the mix. Allen knows it will be unusual to see
the Heat get their rings, especially since five months ago, he was
busy trying to thwart their title march.
”I’m excited for these guys, having spent time around them over
the last two, three months, getting to know them and their
families,” Allen said. ”I’m happy for them that they won, but at
the same time, they beat me and put us out. I understand the
emotions that Boston will feel, watching the whole ceremony. But at
the same time I’m excited for these guys. And once it’s over with,
it’s business as usual.”
Boston’s roster looks improved, even without Allen. Jason Terry
was signed to bolster the Celtics’ bench, there’s an influx of
youth in the rotation, Jeff Green is back after heart surgery, and
the remaining members of what was a Big Four – Rondo, Paul Pierce
and Kevin Garnett – are loaded up for another championship
Still, the rivalry and the Allen reunion, make no mistake, weigh
heavily on both sides. Neither Garnett nor Pierce has spoken to
their former shooting guard since he signed in Miami.
”We’re not going to make this into a Ray Allen or Paul Pierce,
Kevin Garnett, Rondo thing,” Pierce said. ”Right now my focus is
on playing in the game tomorrow versus the Miami Heat. Everything’s
that happened has already happened. He’s here. He’s happy to be
here. We wish him the best for his family and the situation, but
I’m more focused on the Boston Celtics.”
It’s the second ring-night in Heat history.
It’s almost certain to go better than the first one after
Miami’s 2006 title.
Any mention of the score from that Chicago-Miami opener – 108-66
– still makes Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem cringe. They’re the
last two players remaining in Miami from that Heat team, which
endured the worst opening-night loss ever for a reigning
”I just remember we got beat,” Wade said. ”I don’t remember
the game. That’s how long ago that was. Different time.”
Haslem remembers plenty.
”It sticks,” Haslem said. ”But it’s six years later. You
learn and you move on and you try not to let it happen again. We’ve
got a different group of guys. We’re smarter, me and Dwyane are.
And we understand the challenges of defending the title now. We
were naive. At that point, we thought we could do it again the next
year and just do it again and do it again and do it again.”
Well, actually, that is James’ goal.
He didn’t come to Miami for one title. He came for multiple
ones. That’s one of many reasons why even he’s downplaying the ring
ceremony and placing his focus squarely on another marquee matchup
That being said, he’s not overstating it, either.
”Game one doesn’t determine who’s the better team,” James
said. ”I mean, it’s game one.”