MIAMI — Boston guard Rajon Rondo took out a Miami player. But it wasn’t who you thought it might be.
It wasn’t Ray Allen, believed to be a traitor by some up north for bolting the Celtics last summer to join the Heat as a free agent. It was guard Dwyane Wade, who called Rondo a “punk” for clotheslining him in the final minute of Miami’s 120-107 opening-night win Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
By comparison, most of the night was a love fest. And not just because the Heat received their championship rings and fans chanted at Allen, “We love Ray. We love Ray.”
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The Celtics and Allen might not love each other. But at least they didn’t slug one another.
When Allen entered the game off the bench midway through the first quarter, he immediately ran toward his former coach Doc Rivers and hugged him. He then greeted some assistants and tapped Boston forward Kevin Garnett, who had said last month he lost Allen’s number and planned to cut off communication.
“It was more my peace offering,” said Allen, whose 19 points made him one of four Miami players with at least that many, including LeBron James, who didn’t play the final 9:01 with leg cramps but said after the game he’s fine.
Garnett didn’t accept Allen’s gesture, paying no attention to it. But during the game Allen said Garnett acknowledged him with a fist bump.
For KG, that’s the equivalent of somebody else giving a hug.
“I am such an intense person,” Garnett said of his initial ignoring of Allen. “It was a blank. Obviously he’s on the other side.”
After Allen entered the game, he tapped Rondo, who had a frosty relationship in Boston with Allen. Allen said Rondo said to him, “What’s up?”
In this cold war with Cuban-Missile-Crisis-like tension, that’s quite a détente between Allen and the Celtics. As for Rondo and Wade, that’s another story.
“It was a punk play by him,” Wade said of Rondo grabbing him on a drive with 16.9 seconds left and the game out of reach. Rondo got a flagrant foul 1. “The league will take care of it. He clotheslined me with two hands. … I’m here to play basketball. It’s what we are. We’re basketball players. If you want to go do something else, then go do something else. Boxing and all those other things, it’s not it.”
Wade, who finished with a game-high 29 points, raised the ball and appeared ready to throw it at Rondo. However, Wade said he was glad he stopped himself.
Rondo said that Wade “hooked” him, and then he fouled him. He said it was the officials “out there that made” the flagrant call.
At least now there will be something else to talk about other than the Allen situation when these rivals next meet Jan. 27 in Boston. As for Miami’s next game, Friday at New York, the talk might be about James’ health.
James, who battled serious cramps in Game 4 of the last June’s NBA Finals against Oklahoma City, left for the final 4:40 of the third quarter with leg cramps before returning to start the fourth. But then he left for good after about three minutes.
“I’m feeling all right,” James said after the game. “I’ll be all right. … I was advised by our unbelievable medical staff that I probably shouldn’t return. … It was one leg at a time. it was the right leg, right hamstring, then it stopped. … Then I took the jumper and it was the left leg.”
Nevertheless, it was quite a night for James, the regular-season and Finals MVP in last season’s run to the title. He totaled 26 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes after receiving his ring in the emotional pre-game ceremony.
“It’s a great moment, the dream of mine,” James said of the ring being a symbol for what was accomplished. “I put a lot of hard work in, and to be able to (get the ring) in front of these fans, it was a great opportunity, a great moment.”
Watching Allen drain jumpers also was fun for James. Allen shot 5-of-7, including 2-of-3 from three-point range.
“For us to have a Hall of Famer coming off the bench, it’s a treat for us,” said James, using a fitting description the night before Halloween.
For the Celtics, perhaps it was more of a trick that Allen left to take a two-year, $6 million contract with Miami after they had offered a two-year, $12 million deal. But after all the talk that had been flying back and forth, cooler heads generally prevailed.
“It gave me an opportunity during the timeout to come back on the floor and go over and say, ‘What’s up’ to everyone on that side,” Allen said of being able to greet those on the Celtics’ bench because he first entered the game when Wade was at the free-throw line. “At least I wasn’t doing it on the fly.”
Allen said it was “very strange” playing against the Celtics. Allen, who said he didn’t “take nothing” from Garnett’s initial coldness, said at one point during the game he reached out to congratulate Boston forward Brandon Bass but then quickly realized he was on a different team.
Bass just might have returned the gesture. He talked after the game about how it was “good seeing Ray.”
As for the next time the teams meet, Wade and Rondo might not find it good seeing each other. So stay tuned for the next chapter of friction between the Heat and Celtics.