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Heat-Celtics show gets better, but the game reveals all

The Celtics changed course and are trying to play the Heat's game. But Paul Flannery writes that Boston is playing catch-up, and the game reveals all weaknesses.

Chris Trotman

You were expecting what, hugs and kisses from Kevin Garnett?

Quick story: Four years ago I spent an hour and a half following KG around the Celtics' practice facility on media day to ask him one question for a Boston magazine feature. Garnett knew I was following him. He knew why I was following him and he had as much interest in talking to me as he did anyone else in the press, which is to say he had none. The helpful media relations person assigned to keep watch tried to explain my presence. "This is Paul," she said. "He's been talking to people about you all summer."

Without breaking stride or turning around, Garnett spoke: "They tell you lies, man."

If I learned anything in my four years on the beat -- other than what it's like to be stared down by a man a foot and a half taller than me -- it's that the one true thing in this league is the game. It is relentless, almost predatory in nature. Leave a weakness exposed and your opponent will gorge on the remains until the next timeout or a double team, whichever comes first. Everything else, if not quite a fabrication, is for show.

So when Ray Allen -- who has only known Garnett since they were both high school kids in South Carolina -- came over to the Celtics' bench to give his old colleagues some love he was greeted with the iciest of cold shoulders. Welcome to the other side, Ray.

Garnett's indifference will become a thing, just as Allen's increasingly convoluted retelling of history in the days leading up to Tuesday's night matchup dominated the storylines. Neither made any difference on opening night.

Celtics-Heat is the best rivalry going for reasons that have very little to do with objective truth. Twice they have met in the playoffs and twice the Heat have won. The games have been close for the most part, but the reality is that the Celtics couldn't beat them playing their own game, so now they're trying to do it Miami's way.

When these two teams last met, Allen was running around KG screens and LeBron James had as many championships as Carmelo Anthony with 10 times the baggage. Now Allen is playing pop-a-shot off two dominant playmakers and as for LeBron, well, the world truly is his now.

The old mind games are yesterday's fashion accessory, discarded like nerd glasses and backpacks. The NBA is evolutionary and the LeBron era -- finally free of the existential angst that held it back -- promises to be a glorious post-positional universe. That is Miami's strength and the Celtics spent the summer trying to come up with a counter. Enter Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and what they hope is a revitalized Jeff Green.

For all their new versatile personnel the C's are playing catch-up to Miami's defined lack of definition. Terry was off, Green appeared lost in a 2011 daze and only Lee looked like he belonged. They made a decent show of it for a while before getting their doors blown off in the third quarter and rallied only when James was back in the locker room getting treated for cramps. If you're living on a Leandro Barbosa hot streak, you're living on borrowed time.

Allen, meanwhile, was back to his old form. It was painful watching him stagger around on ravaged ankles last season. To his eternal credit, Allen re-worked the mechanics of his meticulously crafted shot in an attempt to compensate for his lack of balance, but he simply wasn't the same. That imposter was gone on Tuesday and the old Allen materialized with 19 points on seven shots. It must also be said that Chris Bosh has become a Celtics' killer, exposing their biggest weakness -- lack of depth behind Garnett.

It's a rivalry strictly in the sense that neither side has any use for the other. That was borne out by Rajon Rondo's passive-aggressive attempt at a horse-collar on Dwyane Wade late in the game, and Wade calling it a "punk play." They have a history, of course, dating back to the 2011 playoffs when a Wade takedown caused Rondo's elbow to meet the Garden floor with a sickening thud.

Every great team needs a foil and the Heat have one in the Celtics. They were built on the same three-star premise with an emphasis on shared responsibility and defense. It took them a year to figure out who they really were and now they have Allen, which has added an element of dramatic intrigue to the mix. The show has only gotten better, but the game still reveals all.