MIAMI — Rajon Rondo battled to the end of the Celtics’ 120-107 season-opening loss to the Heat Tuesday night. Unfortunately for Rondo, his combative attitude led to a flagrant foul and a technical late in the game.
First, Rondo disputed a non-call as Dwyane Wade wheeled in a one-hander for a 102-89 Miami lead with 7:22 remaining. In the next 10 seconds, Ray Allen converted the technical and Rondo missed two free throws.
“I thought [Wade] hooked me and [the official] said I pushed him,” Rondo said.
Rondo then rallied the Celtics to within 111-107 with 2:11 to play.
The Heat closed things out with a 9-0 run over the final 1:47, including two Wade foul shots — after the flagrant foul — with 16 seconds left.
Asked about the flagrant, Rondo responded: “I fouled him. Not my call, three guys out there made the call.”
As for Wade’s comment that Rondo’s foul was a “punk” move, Rondo said:
“I don’t have a response to that.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers downplayed the flagrant call.
“I would’ve been out of the league in two years, because our hand-checks were harder,” Rivers said. “It’s late in the game, and officials call it tight and that’s what they should do — that’s not a big thing in this game, shouldn’t be made a big thing. I’d rather kindle a fire than start one and Rondo has a fire. I’ll take that all day.
“Rondo had a good feel for the game. He was frustrated. He was running plays and you get to second and third options and you’re the point guard and guys aren’t in the right spot, it’s frustrating.”
The Celtics were encouraged by their offensive production, discouraged by their defense.
“I think it started in the first half, transition defense,” Rondo said. “We were trying to find our man instead of the closest man — caused confusion and that opened easy breaks, easy looks at the rim.
“The first game, we’ve got to do a better job communicating defensively. We’ve been saying that all preseason. We pride ourselves on defense — give them credit, [they] moved the ball well, got to the free throw line, we didn’t take away anything. We have to watch film and get a lot better.
Offensively, we were fine, shot 52 percent, took care of the ball in the second half. We’ve just got to get stops.”
Jeff Green struggled in his first official game since undergoing heart surgery.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive, play with more heart, plain and simple,” said Green, who had 3 points in 23 minutes. “I don’t feel like I was as aggressive on the defensive end as I needed to be, but that will change. We have to do better job in transition, talk better.”
The presentation of championship rings to the Heat before the game revived memories for Rivers.
After the Celtics’ championship in 2007-08, they started the 2008-09 season with a 90-85 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. But before the game, Rivers had a negative premonition, sparked by captain Paul Pierce’s reaction as the Celtics received their commemorative jewelry.
“Honestly, as a coach, I thought we were going to get destroyed,” Rivers recalled. “As you remember, Paul gets emotional. Coaches can be cynical characters — you know, it was a great ceremony, I was even getting emotional — but when Paul started crying, I remember turning to our assistant coach and saying, ‘We have no chance tonight.’ Instead of thinking about how nice it was that he was emotional.”
The Heat have been on both sides of the ring experience, as winners in 2006 and as opening-night visitors last year.
“I just think Miami has the advantage of going through it twice, in some ways,” Rivers said. “Once, when they won it and got blown out by the Bulls [108-66], and last year blowing out Dallas [105-94]. So I think they will be more prepared than the average ring team.
“But we won on our night, we beat Cleveland. It can go either way. Who knows?”
Rivers noted that LeBron James had witnessed the presentation to the Celtics in ’08 and to the Mavericks last year.
“They deserve it, they won it last year, they had their day,” Rivers said. “We had our day, LeBron had to sit and watch that.
“This time is payback night and he deserves it, he really does. He’s probably gone through more scrutiny than any player, maybe any athlete, that I can ever remember. In that light, I’m happy for him. I just wish he could have waited.
“It’s not that big of a difference because they’re going to start early, when we would be in the locker room anyway. The only difference is there will be 16 minutes on the clock instead of 20. Our guys don’t usually come out until about 17 minutes on the clock, anyway.
“The only difference is we’ll hear it in the locker room. You’ll hear all the speeches and the noise.”
The Celtics went with four of the starters (Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, Pierce, Rondo) who concluded last season against the Heat, with Courtney Lee replacing Allen. During the preseason, rookie Jared Sullinger started five times and Bass three times at the power forward position.
“Playing Miami, it’s easy,” Rivers said of the decision, “because they run a lot of 3-4 pick-and-roll. Brandon has the ability to switch, so it’s easy for us.”
The Celtics’ opening-day lineup in New York last year included Garnett, Pierce, Rondo, plus Jermaine O’Neal and Sasha Pavlovic.
The Celtics exercised a fourth-year option on guard Avery Bradley, extending his contract through the 2013-14 season.
“I’m excited, can’t wait — I have another year to be a Celtic,” Bradley said before the game. “I’m just looking at it as a chance to keep improving, and, hopefully, I can stay here longer.
“It shows a lot of confidence in me, seeing I’m injured [shoulder operations]. It means I’ve just got to continue to work hard. My hard work got me my third year and fourth year. It makes me hungrier to get back and get the sixth or seventh year.”
Bradley plans to return from the surgeries in December.
“It’s going good right now,” he said. “Taking it slow, my shot’s getting better, I’m moving more, able to lift. I’m not trying to do too much, even though I want to.
“Being in this atmosphere, nothing like a big game. I wish I was playing. But I’m going slow and by December maybe I can start doing contact things.”
“He’s a great kid,” said Rivers. “He works as hard as any kid that I know. He’s going to keep getting better. I’m glad I get to keep coaching him.”
Getting around it
The Celtics altered their travel routine, arriving two days before the game and scheduling a Wednesday afternoon return flight to avoid the storms. “I’ve checked on everybody back home,” Rivers said of the effects of the weather. “Last year we had snow in October and all the lines were knocked out.” . . . Rivers said he had not contacted Allen since the team arrived Sunday. “I haven’t tried, I haven’t not tried,” Rivers said. “I have a bunch of guys I have to get familiar with, so that’s my focus.”Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.