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BOSTON -- The Celtics' locker room had just about cleared out when Eddie House's familiar mug popped out of the team's training room, where he had spent some time catching up with old friends following Boston's 88-80 triumph over the new-look Miami Heat on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
For a fleeting moment it seemed like 2007-08 again, which was fitting because that's a sentiment Paul Pierce has offered on numerous occasions already this season, suggesting there's a certain magic in the air similar to when Boston's Big Three first united.
And in what many dubbed a "Battle of the Big Threes," it was the old guard of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that ultimately outplayed Miami's much-ballyhooed combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
|Ray Allen hit a critical 3 after Paul Pierce made the extra pass, a big example of how the Celtics' chemistry paid off.|
In true Pierce fashion, the Celtics captain shrugged off an injury to score 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and prevent Miami from rallying back. Allen poured in a team-high 20 points, drilling a dagger of a 3-pointer from in front of the Miami bench with 49.8 seconds to play. Garnett showed old-school explosiveness while producing a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) over 35 minutes.
It's something House saw often during his two-plus seasons in Boston, including that 2008 championship campaign. So leave it to him to put the Celtics' triumph into perspective.
"[Boston is] a great team over there, obviously, with their track record," House said. "[Since 2007], when they came together, they've been together a long time -- and it shows."
Indeed, Boston's season-opening win can be oversimplified to this: One team played like a unit that has spent three season together, oozing chemistry; the other played like a team that has spent three practice sessions together.
Which isn't far from the truth. Wade was sidelined for nearly the entire preseason, which surely hampered his performance Tuesday (he finished 4-of-16 from the floor with 13 points over 36:41). Bosh, however, did have a full preseason, and he labored through 3-of-11 shooting with eight points over 37:37.
"You could see the fact that they haven't necessarily polished or got the whole chemistry thing down, but they will," Garnett said. "I know the similarities are there as far as them and, obviously, when we got together. But the 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."
Fortunately for Boston, those days are in the rear-view mirror, which allowed the Celtics to make the plays Miami didn't Tuesday. Like in the final minute, when Pierce's instincts told him to look for the extra pass -- not play what the team loves to call "hero ball." He found Allen for the clinching 3-pointer.
The ball rotated to Pierce with Boston clinging to an 83-80 advantage, but as defenders collapsed on him, Pierce had the presence of mind to swing the ball to Allen, who had been temporarily slowed trying to get to the corner. But he got there and -- like so many times before -- Pierce fed him for the crucial trifecta.
"We drew a play out of the timeout," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, "and the only thing we said is, if it's not there, it won't be there because they have to rotate, and if they rotate, if we make the next pass, the ball will find the open guy. And that was terrific. [Pierce] had a shot, but it would have been contested, and he made the extra pass.
"We always talk about no hero ball, and to me that was a hero pass in a great way. He didn't have to make that pass, but he made the right decision, and it was great."
Pierce has heard Rivers preach that to this squad for years now. It was second nature to give up the ball. A second nature that's going to take time for Miami to develop.
"We talk about it every day," Pierce said. "That's what we work on every day, making that extra pass, not trying to play hero ball. I saw him collapse on me, and you've got one of the greatest shooters in NBA history wide open in the corner. It's a no-brainer. I wanted to get it to him. I have total confidence.
"That just shows our unselfishness and how we play the game. We make the extra pass. We love playing with each other, and [Allen] came up big tonight, and I'm glad he knocked it down."
As Boston's Big Three chatted with House inside the Celtics' locker room, James sat next to Wade at an interview podium down the hall, lamenting the team's sluggish play out of the gates but pleading for time.
"We all know Rome wasn't built in one day, so it's going to take time, and we understand that," James said. "We have to keep on making progress every day and just continue to get better."
It's an interesting choice of words. The Celtics' chemistry wasn't built in a day, either, but a trip to Rome didn't hurt. The "ubuntu" team-first mentality -- born during a preseason trip through Europe -- still permeates the locker room. House gushed about what it means for Boston.
"They are in midseason form, everything clicking," he said. "They can pretty much run their offense with their eyes closed. They are a great team and they played great tonight.
"They aren't the Eastern Conference defending champs for nothing."Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.