This was a very interesting game, with both good and bad news in the outcome.
Let's do the bad first: The first is the worst...the bad, awful, burns in my guts news is that we should have won this game. There's no way around that. This game was winnable, we didn't win it, and those are the types of things that almost always come back to haunt in a toss-up series like this looks to be.
Also on the bad side, LeBron continues to be too much for Pierce. I can't blame the Captain for that, as I'm not sure LeBron is human, but we (meaning Doc, Paul, the other Celtics, and as a side note the fans) need to recognize that and adjust our game plan/expectations. In the last eight playoff games against LeBron, these are Pierce's lines:
Game 7: 41 points, 13-for-23 FG (57%), 5 assists, 4 reb, 4 TOs
Other 7 games: 15.4 points, 36-for-103 FG (35%), 3.3 asts, 4.7 reb, 3.4 TOs
All Celtics fans love Pierce. But it's time to call a spade a spade...he simply can't be the focus of our offense against LeBron. He can still raise his game maybe at a key time, but we can't have him shooting 17 times or running iso in the 4th quarter. For the most part he has more turnovers than assists and shoots in the mid-30s against LeBron in the playoffs...recognize it and adjust the game plan.
Finally, the early returns in the Perk/Shaq matchup are poor. Perk was able to keep Shaq quiet for most of the game, but in the 4th quarter, crunch time, when the Cavs needed a bucket they were able to consistently go to Shaq and Perk couldn't stop him. That is not good, and something that has to be fixed as this series moves forward.
Bad news down, let's shift to the good side. First news best news: we can beat this team. The Boston Celtics absolutely, positively can beat this team. Back in the day I was a big Evander Holyfield fan, and I hated Mike Tyson. But Tyson was the big, bad man on the block even after he went to jail, so when he and Holyfield finally fought I argued with my best friend (a big Tyson fan) that Holyfield could win, and I gave all of the boxing reasons why. But in my heart, where I didn't let anyone see, I secretly feared that when they fought Tyson would catch him with that one big shot and overwhelm him. Through the first half of the fight I kept waiting for Tyson to land it, and eventually he did. He caught Evander with a good one and stunned him. He then went for the kill... but couldn't finish it, and Evander eventually recovered, and the fight continued. And that's when it finally it him me...Tyson isn't better. Holyfield can take his best shot. Holyfield can beat him.
Tonight's game was similar to that fight. Despite all of my analysis, despite all of my confidence...part of me was worried that the Cavs just had another gear that these Celtics couldn't reach. But then I watched...even with the Cs controlling the first half, I was nervous...waiting for the other shoe to drop. And eventually it did, and the Cavs landed their big shot and won this game, but you know...it wasn't a haymaker. It took a Mo Williams blitz, some questionable calls by the refs and some (IMO) questionable decisions from the Cs for the Cavs to squeak this one out. Both teams can play better, but the great news is that the Cavs just aren't a better team. They might win the series...but we can beat them.
Second of all, Garnett is almost all of the way back...through three quarters. Through three quarters tonight I saw him be more offensively aggressive than I've seen him at any point this season, taking and making shots that he just hasn't attempted since he hurt his knee. When he dribble-drive dunked on Varejao I stood up and cheered. He has upped his minutes in the postseason back to the 35 - 36 min range, but you can tell that his legs haven't been all the way there in the 4th. But he's getting close.
In the 4th quarters of the first 2 playoff games KG took only 3 shots total and grabbed only one combined board in those two quarters. In the 4th quarter of the last two games KG has grabbed 5 boards, dished 3 assists, blocked a shot, and taken 9 shots himself. The only thing is, you can tell that his legs are shaky because he has made only 3 of those 9 shots and is front-rimming a lot of them. But he is obviously building up, getting more active and more assertive late, and with all of the time between games in this series there's a legit chance that he gets up to full speed before it's all said and done.
Finally, we saw that Rondo has another gear and the Cavs don't have an answer for him. This is huge, because as I pointed out above...we can't rely on Pierce to be our initiator against the Cavs. But as we've seen in the past two postseasons, and most clearly tonight, Rondo can do it. Our late-game offense should be heavy on the Rondo/KG 2-man game, with Pierce and Allen both working off screens and setting up to take advantage of a defense that is shifted to defend Rondo and KG. That is where our bread should be buttered in this series.
The Cavs are a quick-strike team. They aren't the type to apply steady pressure over a game, but instead they kind of coast along and then go on scoring binges that either catch them up or pull them away. We can be a quick-strike team when Pierce and Allen are the drivers. But we also can be a steady, grind it out team when we play through Rondo and KG. That is what we need, moving forward. To ride our volume scorers when they're hot to quick-strike, but to recognize when to shift to our steady plodders when we need consistent offense. If we can figure out that balance, we can absolutely win this series. Game 1 was informative. We lost, so I hate it. But Monday can't get here fast enough, because dangit we can take this team...and I'm already chomping at the bit to see the next opportunity play itself out.