MIAMI (AFP) –
LeBron James poured in 32 points and pulled down 13 rebounds as the Miami Heat drew first blood in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with a 93-79 victory over the Boston Celtics.
Dwyane Wade added 22 points and seven assists for the Heat, who never trailed and led by as many as 17.
Miami host game two on Tuesday, with the winners of the best-of-seven series advancing to the NBA Finals where they will play either Oklahoma City or San Antonio.
Shane Battier scored 10 points, Mario Chalmers had nine and Mike Miller finished with eight as the Heat again coped admirably without star forward Chris Bosh.
Bosh remained remained sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said there was no timetable for his return.
Kevin Garnett scored 23 points and added 10 rebounds for Boston, but the Celtics looked a step slow most of the night after wrapping up a seven-game second-round victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
The Heat out-rebounded the Celtics 48-33, and blocked 11 Boston shots.
Rajon Rondo, whose triple-double led the Celtics in game seven against the Sixers, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Paul Pierce scored 12 points, connecting on just five of 18 shots from the floor.
The Celtics started firing in the second quarter, battling back from an 11-point deficit to tie the score at halftime.
But the Heat, led by NBA Most Valuable Player James and Wade, inexorably pulled away in the third.
“One down,” Spoelstra said. “At times it was a strange game — some good runs by both teams. We felt we could have played better, I’m sure they felt the same thing.
“We were able to find a way to grind it,” Spoelstra added. “You have to do that against this team. They have so many live weapons out there you have to cover ground and play to your instincts and your speed. I think we did that better in the second half.”
James became the first player to score at least 30 points against the Celtics this post-season, but he, too, said the Heat have plenty of room for improvement.
“We feel like we didn’t play our best basketball tonight,” he said. “We had some great looks offensively, but we had a lot of breakdowns defensively. We just want to try to get better throughout the series.”
The Celtics will certainly have to get better.
After scoring just 11 points in the first quarter they exploded for 35 in the second. But they were held to 15 in the third — when they shot just 27 percent — and coach Doc Rivers said they could not afford the “lulls”.
“The second quarter we executed our stuff offensively,” Rivers said. “Then, third quarter, the game just got away from us. We rushed. Our offense was rushed. We never got into our rhythm.”
The Heat, who won three straight games to complete their six-game second-round triumph over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, are in the conference finals for the second straight year.
Last year they triumphed over Chicago to win the East title before falling to Dallas in the NBA Finals.