MIAMI — What was the most bitter rivalry in the NBA was on life support before Sunday, and without LeBron James, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Rajon Rondo, it expired.
This new version of the Celtics, lacking star power, lacking a villain for the Heat faithful to despise, walked into a two-thirds-full AmericanAirlines Arena and tried to move forward with their patchwork bunch, led by a new point guard.
Marcus Smart made his first career start. And he, like his team, was shoddy as Miami led nearly the entire way for a 100-84 win.
The Heat were barely recognizable themselves, carrying a five-game home losing streak into the matchup. James has returned to Cleveland. Allen is semi-retired. Mike Miller and James Jones have joined James with the Cavaliers. Even Bosh and Wade were out with injuries, leaving a few leftovers from the glory years, and Celtics nemesis Luol Deng (23 points) to rattle their younger opponents with speed and precision.
Miami’s backcourt of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, each with championship rings, dominated their Celtic counterparts, including Smart, who scored 3 points with 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
Tyler Zeller was left alone to carry the Celtics’ offense, scoring 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting. His teammates were 23 for 68 (33.8 percent), including 6 for 23 from the 3-point arc. The Celtics tried playing trapping defense, which forced Miami into contested jumpers, but the Heat hit those jumpers.
Chalmers, who shared several one-on-one battles with Rondo, teamed with Cole to speed past the one-step-too-slow Celtics. The two combined for 26 points and 14 assists, while the Celtics’ starting backcourt of Smart and Avery Bradley combined for 7 points and eight assists.
“I didn’t think we kept up with their speed all day,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “I thought we looked a step behind. Credit them, they were flying off everything. As we talked about before, sometimes when you’re missing a go-to type of guy, like they were in Wade, the other guys are flying all over the place. I thought we got hit by that and I’m not sure we responded to that the entire night.”
Without Rondo to orchestrate the offense, the Celtics needed ball movement from all five players on the court. The result was a solid 22 assists in 33 baskets, four each from Smart, Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk.
But the Celtics simply did not make enough shots, making it difficult to sustain any runs.
They reduced the deficit to 56-51 with 9:13 remaining in the third quarter, but the Heat responded with a 9-0 run, and led comfortably most of the rest of the way.
The Celtics made one final push as a Jeff Green 3-pointer cut it to 81-73, but summer league wonder James Ennis came off the bench to drain a 3-pointer, then thrilled the crowd with an emphatic putback dunk, and the Celtics were done.
Olynyk scored only 3 of his 13 points after halftime, and Green scored 8 of his 13 in garbage time.
The Celtics looked like a discombobulated team trying to indoctrinate three new players after a major trade.
One of those players, 32-year-old Jameer Nelson, addressed the team before the game, introducing himself and letting the youngsters know there is another veteran presence in the locker room.
“We did some great things tonight, but also there’s some things we need to clean up,” said Nelson, who scored 3 points in 20 minutes. “There’s always room for improvement. I tried to explain that we’re all here together. They were receptive. Some of those guys probably watched me when I was in college. They accepted me and I appreciated those guys.”
Despite having Saturday off to rest, the Celtics looked slow in the first half. Miami shot 57 percent in the first quarter, getting two early 3-pointers from Shawne Williams and 7 points from Deng, who signed with the Heat last summer.
Minus Bosh (calf) and Wade (knee), Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had to go deep into his reworked bench. And it delivered with players such as Ennis, Danny Granger, and Udonis Haslem having their moments.
Miami is a shell of the championship-caliber team of the past four years, but it displayed Spoelstra’s defensive principles, turning the Celtics into jump shooters. And that plan worked to perfection.