By A.Sherrod Blakely
MIAMI Miami Heat forward LeBron James probably said it best late last week.
As Rajon Rondo goes, so go the Boston Celtics.
So when he went to the bench early in the second quarter, so went just about any chance the C's had of digging themselves out of an early deficit against the Heat.
What started off as a small hole soon became a grave for the Celtics, whose chances of stealing home court away from Miami died a quick and early death with a 99-90 Game 1 loss.
"Give them credit," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought they were prepared, they were ready, they played with unbelievable intensity. And I didn't think we handled that very well."
That wasn't the only problem for the Celtics.
Paul Pierce, who scored 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting, was ejected with seven minutes to play after being whistled for a double technical foul along with Dwyane Wade.
It was Pierce's second technical foul - he was whistled for a double technical foul earlier in the game, along with Miami's James Jones - which is an automatic ejection.
Pierce was fouled on both plays in which he later received a technical foul, fouls that Rivers believes should have been called flagrant fouls.
But he added, "I don't think we should react to either one. I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team tonight. We were never the first-hit team."
Miami has repeatedly said that they need to bring a certain brand of physical play to this series, the kind of physical play that has been a Celtics trademark for years.
For the most part, they did just that.
And the Celtics didn't handle it very well, evident by the C's being whistled for three individual technical fouls and a flagrant against Jermaine O'Neal.
But the problems for Boston began well before Pierce getting ejected.
After picking up two fouls in the first quarter, Rondo picked up a third less than a minute into the second quarter.
Rondo played just over 32 minutes, and spent the bulk of the second quarter on the bench as the Heat continued to pull away.
The foul trouble wasn't an issue in the second half.
But by then, it was too late.
The C's were in too deep a ditch to come out of, even with Rondo on the floor.
"I just tried to play aggressive in the second half," said Rondo, who had eight points and seven assists while turning the ball over five times.
With Rondo a non-factor for most of the game, Miami relied heavily on Wade to carry the Heat.
He finished with a game-high 38 points, which included 23 in the first half that he capped off with a running bank shot over Boston's Delonte West.
"Dwyane is a special player; he really is," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "I've said this so many times, he just figures it out. He is very diligent."
And deadly when he's on top of his game, which was indeed the case on Sunday.
As impressive as Wade was, he had some company - and it wasn't the usual cast of characters, either.
Jones, a backup, had a career playoff-high 25 points off the bench, a back-breaking performance that the C's simply could not recover from.
"I tried to focus this week because I knew that Boston was going to try and take our big three away and somebody was going to have to step up," Jones said.
Boston fell behind by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, but went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit back to single digits.
They had ample opportunities to inch even closer, but repeatedly failed to make shots that on most nights, were a given to be made.
And while the Celtics are certainly disappointed with the loss, there is still a sense within the locker room that this series is far from over.
"This is a loss. That's it," Rivers said. "We will learn and watch film. It's only one game, but I don't know if it's a winnable game or not. We didn't play very well and we had our chances. I just thought they outplayed us tonight."