Boston, MA (Sports Network) - Ray Allen and Paul Pierce scored 20 and 19 points, respectively, as the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics held off the new-look Miami Heat, 88-80, in arguably the most anticipated regular season opener in NBA history.
The Heat grabbed everyone's attention in the offseason by acquiring two of the highest profile free agent acquisitions. Reigning two-time NBA MVP LeBron James, who fled Cleveland after seven seasons, and former Toronto All-Star power forward Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade.
The blockbuster moves by Miami gave them three players with 17 All-Star appearances between them and tons of championship expectations. James and Bosh both signed six-year, $110.1 million contracts, and Wade was re-signed by the Heat for $107.5 million over six years.
Miami's "Big Three" was not good enough to get past a tough Boston team on Tuesday night. James led the way with 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Wade and Bosh added 13 and 8 points, respectively, and shot a combined 7-of-27 from the field.
"We all know Rome wasn't built in one day. We understand that," James said. "We just need to continue to get better."
Allen made five three-pointers, including a key three late in the game for the Celtics, who lost in seven games to the Lakers in the NBA Finals last season. Pierce pulled down nine rebounds. Glen Davis ended with 13 points.
James scored 15 points in the third quarter to get the Heat within six, 63-57. Miami cut the deficit to four, 68-64, on a James Jones three-pointer with over eight minutes to play.
The Celtics responded with a Davis layup and Pierce trey to extend their lead to 73-64. The TD Garden crowd started to chant "overrated" after Pierce made three free throws and Davis hit a jumper to give Boston an 83-70 advantage with over four minutes remaining.
Miami quickly silenced the crowd with a 10-0 run. James tallied five points during the run, including a driving layup to cut the deficit to 83-80 with 1:10 to go.
Allen essentially put the game away at the other end with a three-pointer from the corner with 49.8 seconds left. A Wade missed three led to two free throws from Pierce for an 88-80 game with 27.2 ticks left.
"I mean, it's just -- we talk about it every day. That's what we work on every day, making that extra pass, not trying to play hero ball," Pierce said. "I saw him collapse on me, and you've got one of the greatest shooters in NBA history wide open in the corner, it's a no-brainer. I wanted to get it to him."
Eddie House missed a jumper to seal Miami's fate.
James, with his new uniform No. 6, made a jumper from the right wing just 1:07 into the game. After Rajon Rondo made a reverse layup, James was good on another jumper. However, the rest of the half was dominated by Boston.
Shaquille O'Neal's alley-oop dunk sparked a 12-2 Celtics run. Allen capped the spurt with a layup and three-pointer to make it a 14-6 contest with 4:47 left in the first.
Miami trailed by seven, 16-9, following 12 minutes of action due to a 4-of-17 shooting performance.
Holding a 21-13 margin early in the second, Boston put together a 20-9 run to create some distance. Allen tallied six points during the flurry, which O'Neal capped with two free throws for a 41-22 lead with 2:13 to go until half.
The Celtics took a 45-30 lead into the locker room. The Heat shot just 11- of-41 (26.8 percent) from the field in the first half. For comparison, Boston went 17-of-38 (44.7 percent) from the floor.
Trailing by 19, 53-34, Miami went on an 11-2 run to get back into the game. After drawing a blocking foul on Pierce, James made a pair of free throws to get the Heat within 10, 55-45, with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the third.
The Heat scored the final seven points of the quarter to make it a six-point game. House made a three-pointer, and James made two free throws and a layup to cut the deficit to 63-57 after three periods.
"A little bit out of rhythm, of course. This is my first -- LeBron's and my first preseason game," Wade said. "Just getting a little bit out of rhythm and continuity is still -- with me being out, the continuity is still not there yet. But I thought defensively we played well. We did a good job of holding this team to 88 points, and we've still got a lot of things we can work on."
O'Neal scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in his Boston debut...Pierce hurt his lower back late in the third quarter, but he returned to the game early in the fourth...The Celtics shot 46.4 percent from the field, while the Heat made 36.5 percent of their shots...Celtics forward Kevin Garnett had 10 points and 10 rebounds.