Get familiar with the name Norris Cole.
When the 23-year-old point guard departed from Cleveland State to take his talents to South Beach, after being select No. 28 overall by the Miami Heat, he probably didn’t expect his name to be thrust into the spotlight two games into the season. But with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade going cold down the stretch of Miami’s home opener against Boston at American Airlines Arena, it was Cole’s 14-point fourth quarter performance that helped stave off a fierce Celtics comeback to lift the defending Eastern Conference champions to a 115-107 victory on Tuesday night.
Taking over in just his second NBA game -and with the Big Three (James, Wade and Chris Bosh) all on the floor- Cole scored 14 of his 20 points in the final period, including three clutch jumpers to save Miami from Boston’s late rally. The Heat led by 20 points midway through the quarter before James and Wade froze up, going 2-of-7 from the field between them, as the Celtics cut the Heat lead to three points twice in the final minutes. Both times the fearless Cole, who came off the bench to replace struggling starting point guard Mario Chalmers (4 points, 3 assists, 5 steals), was able to counter Ray Allen (28 points) and Keyon Dooling’s (18 points) offensive onslaught with his own, as he penetrated Boston’s trapping zone defense to knock down two step-in jump shots to keep the Paul Pierce-less Celtics at bay.
Cole’s jumper with 3:01 left gave Miami a 108-98 lead, which was immediately cut into by Dooling, who scored seven unanswered points, including a 3-pointer with two minutes remaining that decreased the Heat’s lead to three, 108-105. When Boston got a stop on Miami’s next possession, the Celtics went to Dooling again, but this time Wade intercepted the pass, starting a play where James found Cole for another jumper to extend Miami’s lead to five, 110-105, with 1:31 to play. Off a Boston timeout, newly acquired Celtics’ forward Brandon Bass knocked down a short jumper to cut the deficit back to three points, 110-107. A half-minute later, the rising point guard stepped-into a shot -off a LBJ assists- at the top of the key, to restore Miami’s five-point advantage, 112-107. Wade hit 1-of-2 free throws from the stripe to increase the Heat’s lead to six, before Cole recovered a batched Celtics’ save attempt at half-court to dribble the clock down before he was fouled. With 9.3 seconds left, Cole stepped to the foul line where he was showered with chants of “M-V-P” by the sold-out American Airlines Arena crowd -that sat Rick Ross, DJ Khaled and Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush courtside- before he sealed the game with two free throws for the final score, 115-107.
James scored 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Wade had 24 points, eight assists and four blocks. Bosh finished with 18 points. According to ESPN Stats & Info, after two games, the Heat has 131 points in first halves this season. Their new up-tempo offense has been effective in the first two games, as Miami is averaging 102.5 possessions per game, which is well above last season’s output of 93.2 ppg.
Boston (0-2) was again with their All-Star forward and leader Paul Pierce (bruised right heel). Pierce practiced both Monday and Tuesday, but the Celtics have ruled him out for their next game against the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. Boston is optimistic that he will be able to suit up on Friday in their home opener against the Detroit Pistons.
Miami (2-0) will travel to Minnesota to face international star Ricky Rubio and the Timberwolves on Friday.