In the beginning, there was confusion and chaos. Which is odd, because this Celtic nucleus was playing its 80th postseason game together and really should have known better.
The C's were bad in the first quarter of Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Real bad. If you blinked, you might have missed the No. 8-seeded Sixers taking a 7-0 lead in the opening 1:56 of the game -- Boston missed four straight lazy jumpers to open, Philly turned them into fast breaks and quick buckets, and just like that, it was on. The Celtics trailed 15-6 with five minutes left in the first quarter, and 28-18 at the first intermission.
It was a strange case of Game 1 jitters -- the Celtics were running up and down the floor at will, led by the aggressive Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley pushing the ball, but they lacked purpose. The two scrappy guards would get downcourt quickly, but they were playing two-on-five against the younger, more energetic Sixers. They didn't stand a chance.
"We wanted to run," Celtics coach Doc Rivers insisted after the game. "I told our guys that over and over again. On the board, the first thing I wrote before we went out was 'We want to run. We don't want them to run.' We want to run every time. Then we can rebound, we can get out on the break, we can get Kevin [Garnett] deep in the post early.
"It was the pace we like, but we didn't like their pace. We turned the ball over, we took some quick shots, long rebounds. But we feel like every night, we need to run. We need to get easy baskets. It's important for us."
The easy baskets didn't happen early. The Celtics established Garnett in the post occasionally, but not enough. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were trying to get open, but Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner were draped all over them. As for Bradley and Rondo, their shots were rushed and uncoordinated. It wasn't working.
"Early on, in the first couple of quarters, we played a lot of random," Rondo said. "We got good shots but didn't make them. That's why we dug ourselves into a hole. But in the fourth quarter, we paid attention to timeouts, we listened to our coaches, and we did a great job executing plays."
On one hand, you wonder what took them so long. But on the other hand, it sure is encouraging that the Celtics could play so poorly for the first 39 minutes of Game 1 and still eventually come away with a win, 92-91, to go up 1-0. The C's sleepwalked their way into the fourth quarter, and they trailed 79-71 with just over nine minutes to play, but a late inspired burst from Rondo (who finished with a 13-17-12 triple-double) and a resurgence from Garnett on the offensive end (29 points on 12-of-20 shooting) were enough to seal the deal.
The Celtics are better than this, and they know it. But they came into this game banged up and looking for an excuse to ease up a little bit, and they found it tonight. On their home floor, against a bottom seed, with a clean slate in Game 1, they lollygagged their way into the series. And it's nothing new for this team, either. Going into tonight, they'd lost six of their last nine Game 1s, dating back to 2009.
But credit the Celtics -- this time, they scraped out a win anyway.
Now let's see if the next three wins can come easier.
"I really feel like we have better basketball in us," Garnett said. "And I'm sure as the series goes on, we'll have no other choice but to get better."