MIAMI, Fla. — The Miami Heat is the younger, more athletic and – at least for Game 1 – the more rested team in the Eastern Conference finals.
On Monday, it showed.
The Heat wore down the Boston Celtics, racing to a 93-79 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami broke open a game that was tied early in the third quarter by re-establishing its running game and challenging the weary Celtics every time they went to the basket.
"One down and they still have an opportunity in Game 2 to accomplish what they want to," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Miami.
The Celtics' best chance to steal Game 1 disappeared in the final 8 1/2 minutes of the third quarter when Miami turned a tie into an 11-point lead.
At 50-50 Shane Battier blocked a Rajon Rondo layup attempt from behind. The Heat then went on a 9-2 run, started by Battier's three-pointer, and Boston started to wobble.
LeBron James made the margin 10 with two free throws and seconds later a Boston turnover led to a Mario Chalmers layup.
The third quarter ended with the Heat leading 72-61. The Celtics then ran out of gas with Miami's lead growing to 17 early in the fourth quarter.
"The third quarter the game just got away from us," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Our offense was rushed and we never got into rhythm.
"When we took our time in the second quarter we got everything we wanted and then we went back to doing what we were doing in the first quarter."
James led Miami with 32 points and 13 rebounds. Dwyane Wade chipped in with 22 points. Shane Battier had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Heat finished with 11 blocks, one off the franchise playoff record.
"We were very active on defense," Battier said. "That's us at our best. We're not the biggest team in the world but we've got a lot of guys who can fly around."
The Celtics, who went from equaling their lowest scoring quarter of this year's playoffs (11) in the first to their highest (35) in the second, were led by Kevin Garnett's 23 points. Paul Pierce had 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting while Ray Allen finished with as many technical fouls (one) as field goals. He had seven attempts.
Rivers sounded especially concerned about Allen, who is playing with bone spurts in his ankle. Allen, an 89.4 percent career free-throw shooter, was 3-of-7 from the line.
"Ray is going to try to figure it out," Rivers said.
Rondo, who has eight career post-season triple doubles, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He was challenged virtually every time he went to the basket, finishing 8-of-20 from the floor.
"At times it was a strange game," Spoelstra said. "Some good runs (by) both teams. But we were able to find a way to grind it and you have to do that against this team."
Both teams advanced to the conference finals primarily with defense. The Heat played 11 games without allowing more than 94 points in a game. The Celtics needed 13 games to advance and never gave up more than 92 points.
The Heat figured to have the advantage in Game 1 considering the aging and hobbled Celtics had a quick turnaround after being stretched to seven games by Philadelphia in the second round. Boston advanced on Saturday night and was tipping off less than 48 hours later, opting not to practice on Sunday.
"This is a veteran ballclub," James said. "They're one of the most mentally tough teams we have in this league. We don't let (them being fatigued) get into our head."
The Heat, meanwhile, clinched its second-round series against Indiana on Thursday, took off Friday and had two full practices to get ready for the Celtics.
The Celtics looked every bit their age early, with the exception of Garnett. Pierce, Allen and Rondo missed their first eight shots and until Greg Stiemsma scored eight minutes into the game, Garnett had all three of their field goals.
But Boston was able to claw back into the game by slowing the pace and more than tripling its first quarter total in the second quarter.
"I think we were thinking too much in the first half," Spoelstra said. "You have to be instinctual."
The game was tied at 46 at the half; this after Boston scored 11 points and shot 25 percent in the first quarter – the fewest allowed by Miami in any quarter in this year's playoffs.
But the second quarter was a grind, just the way the Celtics want. The Heat did not have a fast break point in the quarter while Rondo started penetrating and the Celtics hit their three-pointers, making 4-of-5.
"Defensively in the second quarter we had a few miscues," James said. "We knew we hadn't played our best basketball so we just had to stop making our mental mistakes and had to play the way we're capable of playing."
The Celtics were called for four technical fouls in the half – one each on Allen and
Rivers, one for defensive three seconds and one for a delay of game. They ended the game with five.