The Celtics came out of the gate just the way Celtics fans had hoped they would all season. Their energy was apparent throughout the first half on offense and defense, as they shot 60% from the field and held the Cavaliers to 43%. Once again, however, the Celtics let their once double-digit lead slip away in the second half, as they shot a measly 22% from the field while allowing the Cavaliers to shoot 65%. The Celtics could only score 32 points in the second half, while the Cavaliers nearly doubled them by scoring 60 points, including a 35-14 drudging in the 4th quarter.
It was déjà vu at the TD Garden- nights that fans would love to forget, but keep being reminded of. Once again it was the Celtics who were too "relaxed" in the second half, as LeBron James and the Cavs came out with a vengeance. When the dust settled, the TD Garden looked more like the elephant graveyard- an all too familiar scene.
"We can't just play one half of basketball and then just come out and play like that," Kevin Garnett said after the game. "I know you guys are tired of writing it in your columns, I apologize for all that. At some point there has to be some action... Doc has a saying, you have to run through the whole race, and we've got to do that. Until we players decide to do that we're going to be in this predicament."
One has to start to wonder if the Celtics were too relaxed or too tired. There's no doubt they were a little thin tonight without Paul Pierce in the game and with Marquis Daniels fighting to cover James and recover from a cold. Add the fact that Nate Robinson is still trying to get acclimated with the new system he is in. These factors played into the decision to keep Rajon Rondo in the game for all 24 minutes of the first half, something that Doc Rivers admitted was a mistake on his part after the game.
"The one mistake I absolutely made was keeping in him the whole game. I made that decision in the middle of the first quarter, and he talked me into it, and it was a bad decision. I thought because his speed is so good he's got to get rest and I thought he was great in the first half throughout the half. I thought in the third quarter it affected him and then once you get there there's no turning back. I don't do that very often, and it was a mistake to do that tonight."
Rondo's production did dramatically fall off in the second half. After scoring 14 points and dishing out eight assists in the first half, Rondo could only tally five points and three assists in the second half. Fatigue may have been a factor, but the Cavaliers did change the way they defended Rondo in the second half, and the Celtics did not have much transition basketball to speak of.
"I think they did a better job loading to the ball in transition," said Rondo. "I didn't get a lot of looks like I did in the first half, simply because on defense we didn't get stops."
"We kept Rondo out of the paint a little more," said James. "In the first quarter and first half he did a great job of getting to the paint and breaking our defense down and making a shot for himself or creating for others. We definitely made a conscious effort of trying to lock him down more in the second half."
It is no secret that the Celtics go as Rondo goes, and that was evident once again tonight as Rondo and the Celtics looked flat out tired and overwhelmed by the Cavaliers energy in the second half.
"I think offensively we stopped moving the ball, and defensively there were small little plays, where we were not in the right position," said Ray Allen. "We stopped being aggressive. I don't know why but the nature of the game changed. They took over as aggressive and we were passive."
Rivers admitted, "We went from being the team with stops, pushing the ball up, getting to the second and third option, attacking, to the team being attacked and walking the ball up the floor."
With a one point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Celtics could not capitalize on the Cavaliers with James on the bench. Instead, the Cavs went on an 11-4 run and took a six point lead before James re-entered the game with 7:49 remaining. The Celtics never got it to a one possession game after that.
"They flew around defensively," James said of his teammates during that stretch, "they helped each other, and they rebounded, finished off the possession, and then on the offensive end they just executed. Mo [Williams], started it off, Delonte [West] hit a big three, JJ [Hickson] had an alley-opp dunk and a lay up, and those guys just kept it going."
Shaquille O'Neal left the game in the 2nd quarter with a right thumb sprain and did not return. That enabled the Cavaliers to speed up their game, proving trouble for a Celtics team that clearly could not keep up in the second half.
Yes, the Celtics do have to run through the whole race. They got caught sprinting out of the gate tonight, and ran out of gas in the end. In terms of the season to date, the Celtics have hardly been sprinting. Fortunately, they are still in a position to turn on the jets once the playoffs come, but it remains to be seen if they are capable of doing so.