BOSTON -- Dwyane Wade, who played badly, opened with an apology.
"Sorry if everyone thought we'd go 82-0," D-Wade said. "It just ain't happening."
LeBron James, who didn't play badly, opened with a promise.
"We all know Rome wasn't built in one day," King James said of his new empire.
For this one night, however, one of the most hyped openers in NBA history ended the way America wanted it to -- with a Miami loss. And when it was over, after the Celtics had dashed the not-ready-for-prime-time Heat, 88-80, at TD Garden, Kevin Garnett could be forgiven if he felt like he already had survived the first three rounds of the playoffs.
"We in the Finals already?" Garnett said.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers had joked about that line of thinking beforehand, saying the winner would be anointed Eastern Conference champions for one day. And then? Well, Game 2 is in Cleveland on Wednesday night.
"But also let's be honest about it," Rivers had said even as his players tried their best to play down the game's hype. "Everybody's excited about this."
And let's be honest about it.
Nobody likes the Heat in New England. Nobody likes them in New York or L.A. Nobody in central Florida likes them. Certainly nobody in Ohio likes them. A radio host in Cleveland even hired a witch doctor to put a voodoo hex on LeBron.
That basically leaves the Clevelander outdoor bar in South Beach, Dade and Broward counties and assorted alligators in the Everglades for unrequited love.
"We know a lot of people are putting us under the microscope," said Chris Bosh, who shot only 3-for-11.
Yeah, all looking to cure the disease, Chris.
During the summer, James had taken to calling the Heat "Team John Dillinger" because J. Edgar Hoover once named Dillinger Public Enemy No. 1. Actually, you've got to give the Prince of Narcissism his props. That's pretty clever. And if you know your gangster stories, you'll remember Special Agent Melvin Purvis signaled Dillinger's exit from Biograph Theater that fateful night in 1934 by lighting a cigar. Three agents opened fire, marking the end of Dillinger.
Red Auerbach, of course, used to light a cigar to signal the end of his opponents, too. After the Celtics ran out to more than one lead of 19 points, however, that climactic moment would not come until Ray Allen hit a deep three from the left corner with 49.8 seconds.
"No hero ball," Paul Pierce said after he passed up a contested shot to find the open Allen.
"But a hero pass," Rivers said of Pierce.
This one had a huge game feel. The national TV stage. David Ortiz was here for the Big Opener. So were Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork and Deion Branch. Everybody who is anybody in Boston showed. And Shaquille O'Neal, the Big Shamrock, did just fine in his Boston debut, combining with Glen Davis for 22 points.
Of course, Pierce, forever the drama king, had to go down with back spasms after LeBron ran him over. He had to go to the locker room for four Advil, some heat, some massage. Pierce returned for a couple of big threes and the big pass. Of course he did. The Heat, however, did not show until the second half. Everybody was waiting. For LeBron. For Bosh. For Wade. They were plain lousy in the first 24 minutes. They shot 4-for-17 in the first quarter. At halftime, they still were only shooting 11-for-41.
"That's about as poor as you can shoot offensively and still have a chance," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "Ugly game, but in the second half we were able to grind it out."
Wade struggled badly. He missed the preseason with a strained right hamstring and, man, did it show. He missed eight of his 10 shots and turned the ball over five times in the first half. He finished 4-for-16.
"He'll be fine," Spoelstra said. "This is his first game since last year. He's in good shape. He feels good. Obviously this game is about rhythm and timing. He'll get it back quick."
"Like LeBron said, it was my first preseason game," Wade said. "We were a little bit out of rhythm. The continuity is not there yet. Defensively, we played well. The offense will come; it didn't come tonight like we wanted it. But that's the least of our worries."
Spoelstra had brought the Heat's 2006 NBA championship trophy into the locker room the other day for inspiration, leading LeBron, who has never won the Big One, to say, "I don't need to see the trophy to be motivated."
LeBron was plenty motivated in the third quarter, scoring 15 of his 31 points, bringing the Heat within six entering the fourth, Celtics fans were chanting "Over-rated!" and suddenly it seemed premature. And when LeBron drove to the basket with 70 seconds to go, he closed the gap to three. That's when Ray buried the dagger.
"I know there are a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure out there, but we have our own timetable," Spoelstra said.
Mike Miller is out until January with a thumb injury and that's going to hurt. It's going to take the Heat time to coalesce. Cohesion does not come overnight. This was an offense that did not move smoothly in the opener. They lacked movement. And they missed open shots.
"It's a feel-out process," James said. "It kind of reminded me at times like the USA practices (for the Olympics). Coach K really had to get on us one day because we were being too unselfish because we had so many options. Me and D-Wade had 14 turnovers between us tonight. A lot of them were being too unselfish."
Nobody wants to hear about the Heat being unselfish. Everybody wants to hear about them being too selfish, about LeBron joining together with D-Wade and Bosh because he can't take a team to the Promised Land himself. Nobody likes the Heat. And after taking their first step toward going 0-82, America is thrilled.
"Listen, they're going to be great," Rivers said.
That doesn't mean anybody outside South Florida is going to be rooting for them.