James Leads Heat Past Celtics to Open Eastern Conference Finals

LeBron James had 32 points and 13 rebounds as the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 93-79 to open the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference finals.

James, the league’s Most Valuable Player during the regular season, also had three assists and three blocked shots, while teammate Dwyane Wade scored 22 points last night in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

The Heat, who host Game 2 tomorrow, never trailed in the contest at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami as they seek to repeat as conference champions and return to the NBA Finals after losing to the Dallas Mavericks last year.

“We know we haven’t accomplished anything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in a televised news conference. “The way they grind, they’ve already thrown this game away and they’re just focusing on what they can do to try and steal Game 2.”

The series winner will face the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA championship. The Spurs host Game 2 of the Western Conference finals tonight after winning the opener 101-98.

Miami led 21-11 last night after one quarter before being outscored 35-25 in the second as Boston’s Kevin Garnett scored 13 in the half, making six of his eight shot attempts. It was the first time this postseason that Miami allowed at least 30 points during a quarter.

A layup converted by Miami’s Joel Anthony with more than two minutes remaining in the quarter also was reviewed at the half and overturned for violating the 24-second shot clock. That left the teams tied 46-46 heading into the third quarter.

Miami, playing without injured forward Chris Bosh, took control in that period, outscoring Boston 26-15. The Heat led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter.

‘On Attack’

“I was able to attack early in the game,” James said at a news conference. “On a lot of my post-ups I was able to get to a lot of my shots that I’m comfortable with making. I’m always trying to be on attack.”

Miami forward Shane Battier added 10 points and 10 rebounds, while guard Mario Chalmers scored nine.

Garnett finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, making nine of his 16 shot attempts in the loss. Point guard Rajon Rondo added 16 points and seven assists, while forward Paul Pierce was held to 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting.

The Heat converted 5 of 25 three-point shot attempts, though still made half of their 72 field-goal attempts.

“They made way too many layups,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We have to do a better job of protecting the paint. There’s no way any team should get that many layups, that many point-blank shots against our defense.”

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