By Simon Evans
MIAMI (Reuters) - Rookie Norris Cole shined for the Miami Heat as they beat Boston 115-107 on Tuesday to maintain their impressive start to the National Basketball Association season and hand the Celtics their second consecutive loss.
The Heat, beaten by Dallas in last year's NBA finals, dominated for much of the game and led by 15 points at halftime, but the Celtics created some tension late in the fourth quarter and twice reduced the deficit to three inside the final three minutes.
Cole, a surprise draft pick out of Cleveland State, showed great confidence and steel to score 20 points, 14 of them in the fourth quarter and made four assists, proving instrumental in the nervy final moments.
For once, the 'Big Three' of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were overshadowed as fans left the arena chattering about the exciting potential of Cole.
"If it was football, he'd get the game ball," James said of his fellow Ohio native, who came up with a crucial three-pointer to restore a five-point lead just as Boston were sensing an unlikely comeback.
"This kid he's one of those diamonds in the rough, one of those kids who are very mature and we knew we had a gem in him," said Wade, who ended up with 24 points and eight assists.
"The biggest thing was to be able to take those shots and not be afraid of the moment, he's the kind of player who thinks that is what he should be doing.
"We see a guy who isn't afraid to put the work in and who from day one, has come in and been able to run the show and be able to tell guys like me and LeBron to get out of the way, you have to respect that.
"He didn't hesitate, he made the big plays down the stretch and I haven't been on a side with a young guy doing that, so many times, for a long time. Since me," he quipped.
Cole clearly has the ability to take challenges in his stride and he adroitly avoided a potential media pitfall when asked about whether there was now a 'Big Four' in Miami.
"Don't get carried away, I'm still learning. It was a big game for me but those guys have proven over and over again for years in this league that they are dominant players and I am still learning, I'm still getting better," Cole told reporters.
Miami are 2-0 on the new, reduced, season after also winning their opener at Dallas on December 25.
Boston sorely missed the presence of the injured Paul Pierce, who would have guarded James but benefited from their switch to zonal defense.
"I told the players that at some point it will get us back in the game because no one thinks we'll ever play zone, it put them on their heels," said Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers.
Miami, who beat Boston 4-1 in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals, marched to a 69-54 lead at halftime with James, who finished with 26 points, in sharp form.
Ray Allen top scored for the Celtics with 28 points, including six three-pointers.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)