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Lingering Thoughts As Game 2 Approaches

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Confession: We're in the wee hours of Sunday morning, just hours away from tip-off of Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals, and I can't think straight.

With a bit of a trip from New York to Beantown on tap for the day, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't as excited as I've been for anything in a long time.  To think of the day-of-a-lifetime that the next 24 hours holds within it is a bit stunning for me, and I'll have to admit that it's put my brain on overload.  So we're breaking out the bullet points today for some left-over babblings from Game 1 and some pre-game ramblings for Game 2, with my express promises for a more coherent reaction to tonight's experience at the Finals (!!!) coming tomorrow morning.  Away we go...

  • Didn't get a chance to discuss Sam Cassell in the wake of my P.J. lovin' from Friday morning.  SamIAm deserves plenty of credit for playing about as good a game as we could have hoped for.  He hit his first three shots and then a big one in the fourth quarter off the feed from Brown after Kevin Garnett's absurd save in the back-court.  Just in case that wasn't enough, he managed to draw a charge on Kobe Bryant to boot.  That said, it makes me slightly uncomfortable to call his night "as good as we could hope for" simply because the guy shot almost 50 percent (4-of-9), didn't turn the ball over and managed to avoid completely short-circuiting the offense.  The way the standards here have changed so dramatically from the expectations when he arrived is truly amazing.  Under the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" theorem, it's hard to argue with a rotation that worked and won our boys Game 1, but that doesn't change the sentiment here that some Eddie House still might not hurt, especially with Lindsey Hunter out of the picture.
  • Paul Pierce is one tough dude.
  • Two defensive points to concentrate on in Game 2: The first is the issue of stopping the pick-and-roll.  The Celtics' defense often seemed to revert to pre-KG/Thibodeau form in the first half of the series opener, and it was most apparent against the high screen rolls that the Lakers ran with much success early on.  Undoubtedly, it's easier said than done to cover a pick and roll that involves Kobe Bryant and often Pau Gasol, but the Celtics' bigs are definitely capable of doing a better job of hedging and then returning to the screener.  Too often, it seemed that the screener would see the double coming toward the ball-handler (usually Kobe), slip the screen and dive to the basket for an easy finish.  Not only does the onus go on the man guarding the screener but also on the weakside defender who needs to rotate over once the screener opens up for an uncontested lane to the basket.  This team has survived all year on playing good help defense via fluid rotations, and it seemed that in addition to being slow on the pick-and-roll at the top of the circles, there wasn't much help being given inside.  Making the Lakers continuously move the ball to get decent looks at the rim -- preferably from farther away, of course -- will be crucial.

Read More..All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!

 

  • Second defensive point: Maintaining an awareness of the Lakers' perimeter shooters.  The purple and gold went just 3-for-14 from deep in Game 1, and simply playing the percentages would indicate that they are likely to shoot considerably better at some point in the games to come.  While part of that poor performance was due to the Celtics' increased defensive intensity in the second half, the Lakers got their share of open looks that simply wouldn't stay down.  When Sasha Vujacic is on the floor, he is there to shoot.  He got a couple of looks that were more uncontested than the Celts would have liked.  Similarly, Derek Fisher is shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc in the playoffs, which means that the Celts can't afford to make decisions like Cassell going under a screen for Fisher at the top of the circles.  These complaints sound nitpicky, I know, and the Lakers certainly have enough weapons to make it very difficult to successfully concentrate on everything on the defensive end, but the screen-and-roll and awareness of shooters were two issues that jumped out from Game 1.  How the C's address those could make a huge difference moving forward.
  • Kudos to Lakers reserve big man Ronny Turiaf for the ability he showed to hit the mid-range jumper in Game 1.  It's a part of his game I had apparently underestimated.  That this guy is even playing any sort of basketball remains one of the most feel-good stories across the league.
  • Regarding the aforementioned save by KG to avoid the back-court violation off of an errant pass from Ray Allen early in the fourth quarter, wow.  Just awesome.
  • Speaking of KG, this was pretty cool, too (courtesy of YouTube user DJTonyAllen):

  • Box score stunner of Thursday night: Eight boards for Ray Allen.  In fact, he put together a fairly versatile line with 19 points, 8 boards and 5 assists.  At times, his decision-making seemed a bit on the suspect side, and he threw a couple of bad passes that deservedly earned him four turnovers (not to mention a couple of other errant tosses on which his teammates bailed him out), but all in all, he certainly made a palatable Finals debut, and if he can find the shooting stroke he regained at the end of the Detroit series, the Celts will really be in business.
  • The two 'X-factor' starters finished on opposite ends of the spectrum in the opener.  Rajon Rondo had a rather successful opening effort.  Though he shot just 4-of-10 from the field, he got his points (15), rebounded well by point guard standards (5 boards) and dished out 7 assists to just 2 turnovers.  He didn't fade from the pressure of the Finals, and as long as he stays aggressive in attacking the basket without fear when he gets the opportunity to do so, no complaints here.
  • In contrast, even before the injury, Perk seemed to revert to his old form from days prior to the 2008 playoffs.  He was a non-factor on the glass, brought the ball down inside and had a dunk blocked because of it and made a few defensive mistakes as well while getting himself in foul trouble.  The injury no doubt didn't help, and one would expect that we'll be seeing plenty of P.J. and Leon Powe this evening if Perk isn't fully good to go.  That said, the big man in the middle showed us a new level of play last round against Detroit, and it's great to finally be at a point where we know he can put out a better performance than the one we saw in Game 1.  For a long time, not all of us felt so sure.  Keep on bein' beastly, Perk!
  • Finally, as I've written in the forums on a couple of occasions already, one of the best parts of the Game 1 win was coming to the realization that this team played far from its best game.  The green didn't play much defense at all in the first half, and though the intensity was much greater in the second half, we've seen the fellas play much more suffocating defensive basketball.  Similarly, the boys put up 98 points while shooting just 42 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from deep.  There is plenty of room for improvement -- although the Lakers can say the same -- but one win is already in hand.  It's a good feeling, hopefully to be topped off with even better feelings tonight.  Go green!