May 3, 2010. The underdog Celtics, fresh off of a second half of the season swoon that dropped them to 50 wins, is facing off against the #1 seeded 61-win Cavaliers led by LeBron James. James' Cavs are heavily favored, and has already won game one in Cleveland by eight points. In Game 1, LeBron (35 points, 7 boards, 7 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) had done what he wanted to do and had outplayed both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen put together (combined 28 points on 11-for-31 shooting from field, 4 boards, 3 assists and 5 turnovers), and sidekick Mo Williams chips in another 20 points. The only bright spots for the Celtics in game 1 had been Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, who combined for 45 points, 16 boards and 16 assists but just don't appear to be enough.
Then Game 2 roles around, and the Celtics win by 18. They are still led by KG and Rondo, but this game they get contributions from Ray (22 points), Rasheed Wallace off the bench (17 points), and a modest effort from Pierce (14 points). LeBron is still very good (24 points, 7 boards, 4 assists) but he's no longer otherworldly. And Mo Williams is held in check, leaving LeBron on an island.
We all know how this story ends, with the Celtics choking out the Cavs in 6 games and ending the LeBron era in Cleveland. Now, fast forward to...
May 3, 2011. Once again, the underdog Celtics are facing a supposed juggernaut squad led by LeBron James. Once again the Celtics have lost Game 1 (this time by 9 points). And once again it's LeBron and a co-star that do the heavy lifting (Dwyane Wade and LeBron combine for 60 points, 10 assists, 6 boards, 5 steals, and 4 blocks). This time in Game 1 it's Pierce and Ray that play well (44 points, 10 boards, 5 assists combined) but KG and Rondo sputter on offense (14 points on 6-for-19 FG). And for the Heat, the dagger is wielded by an unlikley source as James Jones comes off the bench for 25 points (5-for-7 3-ptrs and 10-for-10 FTs). This time around, though, the feeling in Celtics land is that the Celtics will bounce back and steal game 2. After all, that's what they did a year ago and it's how the team is built.
Instead, the Celtics lose Game 2 worse than they did Game 1, dropping an 11 point effort. LeBron and Wade are still otherworldly (63 combined points), and this time their third wheel is Chris Bosh (17 points and 11 boards). For the Cs Garnett and Rondo show up (36, 12 and 12 combined) but Pierce/Ray struggle (20 combined points on 7-for-18 FG). The Celtics bounce back to win Game 3 behind a vintage KG/Pierce effort with Rondo's courage of playing through the broken elbow, but eventually the elbow comes back to haunt them and the Cs fall in 5 games. Now, fast forward to...
May 30, 2012. Same old story, just a different year. Same underdog Celtics, same heavily favored LeBron-led juggernaut, same Game 1 loss. Both sides know that Game 2 is important (not MUST-win...but important). We as fans should know that the Celtics CAN win in this situation...but they also could lose. The question is, which of the previous years will THIS year's Game 2 emulate?
There are elements of both situations at play...like last year the Celtics are dealing with key injuries and hobbled stars. But on the flip side, with the Heat minus Bosh the current Heat actually have a lot in common with the LeBron-led Cavs...they wield a huge hammer, but if you can blunt the main thrust the secondary players are really all role players.
To me, the moral both from previous years as well as this round, is that the team that plays like a TEAM is in the driver's seat. In Game 1 this year, just like Games 1 and 2 last year or Game 1 of 2010, it wasn't the super-duper stars that killed us. LeBron and Wade/Williams going wild obviously hurt, but the Cs could withstand that. What was murderous was letting the role players get theirs as well. The Celtics could have survived the 54 combined points that Wade and James put up on Monday, but they couldn't allow that AND let Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers make impact plays as well. The Celtics' defense is supposed to be designed to force ball-dominant players to have to take shots that they don't want to while choking off the other options. Let LeBron and Wade drop 54 points...but make them take 45 shots to do it, and don't leave the 3-point shooters open to do it. Let Garnett guard Turiaf or Anthony and roam off of them, helping out the other 4 starters who are playing their own man as tight as possible. If the Heat can win with LeBron and Wade making contested circus jumpers and Turiaf/Anthony volume scoring, then tip your hat and go on to Game 3. But I don't think they can.
And on the Celtics' offensive side, ride Rondo and Garnett hard. They are the two big mismatches in the Celtics' favor, and history has shown us that they can carry the offensive load for entire series at a time. History also shows us that, even when healthy, Pierce and Ray just can't consistently volume score against LeBron and Wade. So don't try to force it...let them be secondary scoring options that spot-up and make the opportunistic plays when they're presented. But run this through Rondo and KG,and make it clear from jump that THEY are going to have to be the two that forces the action and forces the Heat to adjust (and thereby opens up the game for the rest of the Celtics to contribute).
Despite the final, the Cs were right there on Monday. They have it in them to make Game 2 of this season look like Game 2 from 2010. In the words of KG...