Just 24 hours after tipping off their season by downing LeBron James' new team, the Boston Celtics get back to work against The King's old club when they visit the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce scored 20 and 19 points, respectively, on Tuesday as the defending Eastern Conference champions 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 stars. Reigning two-time NBA MVP James, who fled Cleveland after seven seasons, and former Toronto All-Star power forward Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade.
Miami's "Big Three" was not good enough to get past a tough Boston team, however.
"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 while another former Cav, Shaquille O'Neal, scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in his Boston debut.
Cleveland won 127 games, the most in the NBA, over the past two regular seasons with James leading the way but was never able to get over the hump and win an NBA championship.
That cost former head coach Mike Brown his job and forced general manager Danny Ferry to leave the organization. Most thought the changes at the top of the organization were done to placate James but the superstar decided to flee the Forest City anyway.
It's all spilt milk now and James will have to rebuild a tattered reputation in Miami, while the Cavs and new coach Byron Scott attempt to rebuild an entire franchise -- something Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert guaranteed after his former superstar plunged the dagger into Cleveland's collective heart.
After losing James, Gilbert sounded like part spurned lover, part nonsensical fan and part gypsy when he released an open letter to his team's fans that read more like an extremist rant coming from a wing nut like Ann Coulter or Keith Olbermann.
"Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us," Gilbert wrote. "You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more. In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight: I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank."
Hopefully that bank is FDIC insured because the Cavs aren't winning anything for a long, long time.
"I kind of love that," Scott said of the negative talk. "I've been an underdog my whole life. In my conversations with guys this summer, they felt the same way and that's a good thing."
Veteran point guard Mo Williams figures to take on more of a leadership role this year while Cleveland must get consistent offense out of sixth man Antawn Jamison. The club is also high on young power forward J.J. Hickson and thinks guard Boobie Gibson might have a breakout year offensively.
Williams, however, is questionable for tonight's contest. The Cavs' quarterback returned to practice on Tuesday after missing five days after his father-in-law's death. Scott is concerned that Williams' conditioning and rehab from a groin injury could have been hampered by the layoff.
Boston and Cleveland split four meetings during the regular season last year but the C's ousted the Cavs in six games during the Eastern Conference semifinals.