Dwyane Wade and Miami sent a strong message to their Eastern Conference tormenters the Boston Celtics with a 99-90 victory on Sunday that gave the Heat an early edge in the heavyweight second-round playoff matchup.
Wade came out firing with 23 of his game-high 38 points in the first half, while LeBron James added 22 to help the Heat grab a 1-0 best-of-seven series lead over the Celtics team that knocked each player from last year’s post-season.
“Today our shot-makers made shots and that was the story,” Wade told reporters after turning around his regular-season struggles against the Celtics this season when he averaged just 12.8 points per game.
“These guys expect this from me. I wasn’t giving it to them in the regular season versus them and I wanted to come out and be a leader. [Boston] is never going to quit and we look forward to the challenge,” he said.
In the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies continued their magical playoff run by mauling the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-101 to draw first blood in their best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series.
Fresh off a shock first-round upset of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies showed no signs of a letdown against the Thunder, grabbing the lead midway through the first quarter and never letting go.
A showdown between the Celtics and Heat has been anticipated ever since James and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh joined forces with Wade in the off-season in an attempt to shift Eastern Conference power.
The series opener proved feisty as Boston’s Paul Pierce was ejected with two technical fouls in the fourth quarter following a confrontation with Wade.
The wily Celtics still managed to make a late push and pulled within eight points with four minutes left after having trailed by as much as 19 in the second half.
However, the Heat held off the run with six straight points to move ahead 96-82 with 2 minutes, 54 seconds left
Ray Allen kept Boston in the game with 25 points, including five three-pointers, while Pierce finished with 19.
James Jones sparked the Heat with five three-pointers and a career playoff-high 25 points, but it was Miami’s suffocating defense that held Boston to 36 first-half points as the home team took a 15-point lead into the locker room.
Game 2 is in Miami today.
In Oklahoma City, Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies best player against the Spurs, was again in the spotlight as he hit for a game-high 34 points and 10 rebounds. Spaniard Marc Gasol also contributed a double-double with 20 points and 13 boards.
Kevin Durant, the NBA’s scoring champion, had 33 points and 11 rebounds in a losing cause for the Thunder, while Russell Westbrook had 29 points.
Memphis led by as much as 16 in the first half and powered ahead 91-74 in the fourth quarter as they eased to another shock victory.