ESPN’s Tim Legler joined the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning to dissect the Celtics’ season-opening victory over the Heat on Tuesday night at TD Garden. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page .
Legler said the debut of the Heat’s Big Three was a clear failure.
“The Miami Heat , I just think they’re a team that’s probably 20 percent maybe of what they can be,” he said. “Because offensively last night, that wasn’t just bad for an opening night game, that was inept, period, for an NBA team offensively, the way they played, especially the in the first half. I think that Erik Spoelstra ‘s got a very challenging task to try to figure out a way to get ball movement on a team with a lot of guys that want to catch the ball and break you down individually.”
“I saw a bunch of guys that didn’t look like they fit well together,” Legler said. “I saw LeBron James go back into the mode in the second half where he basically said, ‘I have to become a scorer now to win this game.’ And that’s exactly what he was in Cleveland night in and night out. And it’s a big reason why he went to Miami, to avoid that situation, to let other guys make plays, to let him be more of a facilitator in that situation.”
As for James’ comments after the game that the team was too unselfish, Legler said he charted the game, and the stats don’t back up that claim.
“I thought that last night saying that we were too unselfish was a complete cop-out,” Legler said. “I didn’t see that at all. ‘¦ Seventy percent of what they got offensively was someone basically saying, ‘I’m going to go one-on-one right now.’ That’s not an unselfish approach, that’s a selfish approach. The lack of ball movement makes them look selfish, but the problem is No. 1, they don’t have enough guys on the floor that can spread the floor and be consistent 3-point shooters.”
Added Legler: “It became the Cavaliers of South Beach last night. If that’s the case, you’re better off with role player that can shoot the basketball and spread the floor instead of guys that want to catch it and go right back into the paint after you just kicked it out to them, which is what they had on the floor last night. So, they’ve got a lot of issues from a chemistry standpoint offensively. But fortunately for them, they’re talented enough and there’s enough bad teams in the East, that they’re still going to win their share of games while they figure this out.”
On the other side of the court, Legler said the Celtics’ cohesiveness is impressive.
“It speaks volumes about the fact that this team’s been together for a while,” he said. “You can’t overstate what chemistry means on a basketball court, in terms of guys having played together for a while. It’s just everything in basketball ‘ the rhythm, the timing, the way the ball moves. These guys are so used to each other. They’ve got some new pieces incorporated, but those guys have very well-defined roles on when they’re going to get the basketball. You look at the Heat, they’ve got to figure all that out, especially where Dwyane Wade  hasn’t even played [most of the preseason].”
The C’s bench showed signs Tuesday night of the kind of impact it can have this season.
“The Boston Celtics  right now are the deepest team in the NBA,” Legler said. “When you look at the quality of guys that they can bring in ‘ and maybe none of them can play big minutes anymore, and there’s going to be nights when they don’t do anything, those guys. But when you can bring in guys like Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal  and Nate Robinson , and Delonte West  didn’t even play last night, you’ve got Marquis Daniels  in there who’s going to be effective for this team all year, Kendrick Perkins  eventually ‘ I mean, this is the deepest team in basketball, with all the veterans that you can bring in.
“That gives Doc Rivers  a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of what combinations he can find on a given night, if you win. But it’s still going to always center around those four guys being consistent and then these role players accepting what they’re asked to do and doing it well. Even if it’s only a couple of them on a given night, they’ve got more guys that can make plays I think and help you win games late than any team in the NBA.”
Legler said the Celtics can win 64-65 games this season, depending on their level of interest in winning regular-season games.
“I don’t know to what extent they put their foot on the gas pedal,” Legler said. “I don’t know how the Eastern Conference is going to play out, if Doc Rivers feels that that’s necessary to try to do that. Certainly, if they wanted to, there’s no question the Boston Celtics, to me, could win 64-65 games, if that’s what their priority was. I’m not sure that’s what it is. I think he wants to keep everybody healthy for the playoffs.
Legler said the Heat will struggle to reach 60 wins.
“You look at the Heat, I think they’re a team that’s going to be somewhere between 53, 54 wins and up to 63 wins,” he said. “This is a team that when I look at the way that that ball, how stagnant that basketball is on the court ‘ and it’s going to get better, but I still look at parts that don’t necessarily complement each other. If things break right and they figure this out, and Mike Miller  either has a bigger impact than we know, and they can figure out a way for guys to play within the flow without iso-ing so much, hey, this is a team that could win 65. But it would not shock me to see this team in the low-to-mid-50s if they don’t figure out a way to get better chemistry offensively.”
Asked about the contributions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal this season, Legler said he expects a mixed bag.
“I think Shaq will stay interested,” he said. “Although, playing 18 minutes a night, if that’s what he gets, I wonder if that’s going to make him happy.
“Jermaine O’Neal is a guy that if I was Doc Rivers I wouldn’t be counting on for anything. I think at this stage, you know he’s going to miss at some point 30 games with an injury. And you don’t know even what he has left offensively at all. I think at this point he’s basically a face-up jump shooter on pick-and-pop situations, and he’s not as good a defender guarding the rim as he was. I don’t think he’s as critical to what they’re doing. He just gives them added depth until Kendrick Perkins comes back.”
Asked about Rajon Rondo , Legler was effusive in his praise of the point guard. “I think there’s a lot of nights he’s the best player on the floor for that team. You just cannot really quantify everything he does to help you.”
Added Legler: “His decision-making just continues to get better and better and better. He might be a guy that never is a real consistent outside shooter. But he might be so good at everything else he does that it’s never going to matter. ‘¦ He’s now turned into a guy that I think legitimately you can say is a top-three point guard in this league.”