BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics lost to the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season, Boston’s starters scored 86 points.

Problem was, the Celtics scored 88 as the Heat (with 101 points) cruised to the NBA finals and eventually a championship.

The Heat got 19 bench points (all from Chris Bosh). The Celtics, with older players, needed better bench support. (Ryan Hollins provided those two points from the bench. Hollins signed with the Clippers – one of many players to leave Boston).

Not surprisingly, Boston made several changes to bolster the bench, as well as replace starter Ray Allen, a defector to the Heat. The changes should mean improvement for Boston, which begins its season Tuesday night in Miami.

“I just like us as a whole,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. “We have so many different moving parts.”

Rivers has many possibilities for lineups, but knows he still has a solid core.

“You can overdo it, obviously,” Rivers said. “What you want is to have the right five at the right time.”

Rivers amended that.

“It’s really the right two. Because the other three will be on the floor at the end of the game Paul (Pierce) is going to be on the floor. Kevin (Garnett) is going to be on the floor. (Rajon) Rondo’s going to be on the floor.

“So, it comes down to the right two.

After the Big Three, Rivers has a variety of options:

Jeff Green, 6-foot-9, can play guard or either forward position. Out last year with an aortic aneurysm, Green showed a strong game in preseason (leading scorer, second-leading rebounder), a performance the Celtics hoped to see when they traded Kendrick Perkins for him in February 2011.

Brandon Bass, 6-8, is a returning starter at forward; averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds last year.

Jared Sullinger, 6-9, was the Celtics first-round draft pick last year (21st overall) and was voted the “sleeper” pick of the draft by NBA general managers. Strong rebounder with scoring touch inside.

Courtney Lee, 6-5, was acquired from Houston last July and is likely to slide into the vacancy left by Allen. Lee can score from outside and complements Rondo in the running game.

Jason Terry, 6-2, is the spark plug off the bench. He performed that role for Dallas last year, averaging 15.1 points and 3.6 assists a game.

Avery Bradley, 6-2, missed the Heat series because of an injury, and his defense was missed (Bradley was voted one of the best perimeter defenders in that GM survey).

Bradley is recovering from surgeries on both shoulders. He will be back by mid to late December.

Other possible contributors include 7-foot center Darko Milicic, 6-10 returning forward Chris Wilcox and veteran guard Leandro Barbosa.

The Celtics’ strengths include an offense that features Rondo at point guard, Pierce at either shooting guard or small forward, and Garnett in the post.

The Celtics’ concerns include the competition in the East (Boston is improved, but so are the Heat, Knicks, Nets and 76ers), and the age/health of their stars (Garnett is 36, Pierce 35).

TUESDAY’S GAME not only is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final, it features the soap opera of Allen facing his old team.

The faceoff received added drama when Allen said the Celtics forced him to leave by “not taking care of him,” even though the Celtics’ offer of a two-year contract for $12-million was far better than the three-year, $9-million deal he got in Miami.

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH