By Jessica Camerato
BOSTON - Ray Allen remembers the first time the Celtics "Big Three" took the court together.
There were so many questions on that night three years ago. Who would be part of each rotation? How many minutes would they play? Who would take the last shot?
Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett didn't have the answers.
"I remember not really knowing at some points what is going to happen," Allen said. "You don't know and I think we as a group, especially between the three of us, it didn't matter. We didn't care. Doc drew up plays and based on how the flow of the game went, the ball found who was open. We learned that and we never had an ego about it. It was just like, just win the game and move forward."
Sounds simple, right? Not only did the Celtics figure it all out, they won the NBA championship in their first season together.
But on Tuesday night, it was apparent that finding the formula for winning with three superstars isn't always that easy.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh (or "Miami's Big Three," as they've been dubbed) didn't have the answers to those questions, as they lost to the Celtics, 88-80, on Opening Night at the TD Garden.
The trio shot a combined 17-for-48 from the field (35 percent) and scored 52 points altogether. James accounted for 31 of those points, with 21 coming in the second half. They weren't exactly a triple threat for 48 minutes.
"I think right now it's a feel-out process for myself, for D-Wade, for Chris, and for the rest of the guys," James said. "I talked to those guys, it almost felt like we were being too unselfish to get each other into the flow of the game. And the reason we're here and the reason we've been successful is because we've put ourselves in a position to be aggressive at all times, no matter who's out on the court . . . We have to understand that we can't be too unselfish because we have so many options. We just have to play our game and it's going to be better for the team."
A performance like this is not a reason to write off the Heat's season. Not only is there a transition period to develop chemistry on the court, they didn't have the opportunity to do so during the preseason. Wade strained his hamstring three minutes into his first exhibition game, and Tuesday night was his first extended period of time playing alongside James and Bosh.
The Heat expect to play better as the season continues. The Celtics expect them to as well.
"You could see the fact that they haven't necessarily polished or got the whole chemistry thing down, but they will," said Garnett. "I know the similarities are there as far as them and us, and obviously we got together, but scenarios are different. In order for them to get better, they're going to have to continue to go through rough days and dog days, and that's part of it. Lord knows we went through ours, and we learned from it, and I'm pretty sure they'll do the same."
The irony is that the trio from South Beach can learn from their heated opponents.
"Everybody looks at them as the blueprint for, 'We can do it fast,' " Wade said of the Celtics. "It's not many teams that have been able to do that before. That was a special ball club that came together. It was the leadership of the Kevin Garnetts, the Paul Pierces and the Ray Allens of the world, that brought those guys together to win that championship. Of course we look at that, but we have to find our own identity. We have to figure out what works for us. We know it's a long season, no matter what people say. The highs, the lows, we'll take them and we move on."
After being in the same position himself, Allen foresees the Heat will play some games where one star will have the hot hand and the other two may struggle, or vice versa. Take Tuesday's game as an example. Allen (20 points) scored twice as many points as Garnett, but when the buzzer sounded they had found a way to share the ball and win as a team.
"We were so willing to just go with it and see who had it going, and when it happens you just kind of ride that wave a little bit," Allen said of the 2007-08 championship season. "They're going to learn a lot about themselves over these next couple of weeks and months. The important thing is, definitely we learned, that you stick together, try to figure it out, and put yourself in a good position toward the end of the season."
James, who essentially took over the game over for the Heat in the second half, has taken notice of the Celtics "we-first" mentality. He said he doesn't have to be the team's leading scorer every night in order for them to win because of their depth. As the Celtics proved, it can take giving up personal accolades to help the entire team win.
"I just think how they just sacrifice everything," James said. "Their first year together, they didn't worry about points or rebounds, anything individually. They just went out and did what's best for the team. It's not like we needed it, but you could look at that as an example and we've taken it."
After struggling to find their stride together on Opening Night, it wouldn't hurt the Heat to take a second look.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcamerato