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Celtics Look to Respond in Game 2

2010 NBA Finals - Game 2

Sunday, June 6, 2010


TV: ABC; Radio: WEEI

Venue: Staples Center

From a Boston perspective, Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals will be remembered for all that went wrong. The C's suffered from a multitude of issues, including noticeably porous defense, a lack of aggression on the glass, a distinct lack of offensive mojo, Ray Allen's foul trouble, Pau Gasol's dominance, and abysmal three-point shooting. And that's just the short list.

Fortunately, the Celtics have a golden opportunity to correct all of those woes in turn in Game 2 tonight, with an alluring 1-1 series split on the line. An 0-1 series hole is certainly manageable (see the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals versus Cleveland), but an 0-2 trench heading back to Boston is much more unfavorable. If things go sour for the C's tonight, they still will have three straight games in Boston to try and make amends, but that slight measure of comfort cannot keep them from competing in what some would call a pivotal Game 2 tonight.

Above all else, we should notice tonight a much more focused group of Celtics, as, given the fact that it was Game 1 of the NBA Finals and all, we collectively noticed a somewhat surprising lack of intensity. Expect a much more determined Kevin Garnett; a much more assertive and effective Rajon Rondo; a much more involved Ray Allen; and a more concerted effort on the glass, particularly from Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

Defense has to take precedent tonight, as the C's allowed an opponent to score 100 points for the fifth time this postseason. Not surprisingly, the Celtics are 0-5 when they've given up 100+ points in these playoffs. Part of that is attempting to slow down three of LA's more prolific offensive guns - Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Ron Artest. Of those three, Artest is perhaps the best candidate to be stopped, yet is probably one of the more difficult, seeing as he's more of an opportunistic scorer, as opposed to a guy with the ball in his hands every time LA heads down on the offensive end. In Game 1, Bryant, Gasol, and Artest combined for 68 of LA's 102 points, and 25 of their 42 rebounds. If you want to get into the business of comparing "Big Threes", Boston's trio of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen combined for just 42 points and 16 rebounds.

Projected Starters:

Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum

Keys to the Game:

Defense/Rebounding: Does this come as a surprise to anyone? It starts up top, with the perimeter guys, who need to contain LA's slashers, so that the bigs can effectively do their job down low by not being pulled out of position possession after possession. One of the most obvious culprits for the Lakers was Kobe Bryant, whose mid-range game was devastating all night. His ability to break into the paint and incorporate a complete arsenal of floaters, pull-up jump shots, hanging jump shots, hanging leaners, and unorthodox runners in the paint is completely foreign to the Celtics, as they have not seen a player capable of so many mid-range moves in these playoffs, including Dwyane Wade. 12 of Bryant's 30 points in Game 1 came in the paint, either on slashing layups or the aforementioned rotation of all-but-unstoppable pull-up moves.

The C's were a -11 in total rebounds (42-31), with the most glaring disparity stemming from the Gasol/Garnett matchup (14 for Gasol to a mere four for Garnett). Garnett's automatically at a disadvantage here, as, at this point in their respective careers, Gasol is a better rebounder than KG. Four of five years ago, this wouldn't be the case. But this isn't four or five years ago. Even if Garnett can't outrebound Gasol outright, he needs to make sure Gasol isn't ripping down 10 more than he is.

Offensive Rhythm: It sure is difficult to win an NBA Finals game when you're having as much difficulty on both sides of the ball as the Celtics had in Game 1. Largely due to the absence of Ray Allen (foul trouble), the Celtics' offense stalled most of the evening, as the team tallied just 19 total assists. Rondo also struggled at times, as the length of the Lakers' front line seemed to bother a number of his drives to the hoop. Three of his shots were blocked underneath and he tallied just eight assists. I say "just" only because we know Rondo's capable of controlling a game with his passing, but with arguably his favorite target in Ray Allen stuck on the bench, Rondo had a much more difficult time of it in Game 1.

Transition Buckets and Three-Point Shooting: All season the Celtics have placed a certain emphasis on scoring in transition without actually becoming a true uptempo team, say like the Phoenix Suns of a few years ago. However, in Game 1, they mustered just five fast break points, largely due to their inability to control the defensive glass, and the Lakers' notable edge in second chance points (16-0). It's incredibly difficult to push the ball and score transition buckets when you're inbounding the ball after your opponent scores. Tony Allen had a rough stint on the court in Game 1, and he couldn't cash in on sharing the court with Rondo, as the pair are typically effective on the fast break together.

As for the three-point shooting woes, I touched on the matter in a post yesterday morning:

The Celtics shot a rather putrid 1-10 from three-point nation in Game 1, which of course measures out to a measly 10 percent. The lone three was courtesy of Rasheed Wallace, as Paul Pierce missed all four of his attempts, while Ray Allen missed both of his tries. Tony Allen supplanted his surname in the lineup when Ray was plagued with foul trouble, and when he's paired beside Rondo, they can make for a devastating two-man fastbreak tandem, but, at the same time, offer little to no threat from beyond the arc. And with Pierce not in any sort of rhythm from distance in Game 1, when the Celtics put out a lineup of Rondo, Tony Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and Perkins, the three-point shot wasn't much of an option on the offensive end.

Through the first 18 games of these playoffs (including Game 1 of the Finals), the Celtics have attempted 286 three-pointers, and have converted 107 of them, which measures out to a very respectable 37.4 percent. They've averaged 5.9 made three-pointers per game, so you can see, aside from the grizzly percentage, the Celtics' performance from three-point nation in Game 1 was not what we are accustomed to seeing. The three-point shot is definitely a key part of Boston's offensive attack, yet I wouldn't go so far as to say the Celtics are completely reliant upon it. We've seen in these playoffs a few examples of Boston shooting poorly from deep in games they still managed to win.

In Game 1 against the Miami Heat the C's shot just 1-6 from the nation (16.6 percent) and won, 85-76. In Game 4 against the Cavaliers they shot even worse from distance than they did in Game 1 against the Lakers, posting a 1-14 mark from deep (7.1 percent), yet still won by 10, 97-87. And in Game 6 against the Cavaliers (also known as The Clincher), the C's shot a meager (yet much improved, compared to Game 4) 29.4 percent from the nation, and still defeated the Cavaliers, 94-85. And for those looking for something positive to latch onto, before Game 1 Thursday night, the C's shot less than 20 percent from the nation in these playoffs twice (Game 1 against Miami, and Game 4 against Cleveland), and shot at least 53 percent from deep in the following game. This might be a stretch, given the small sample size, but hey, it's better than nothing.

50/50 Game: The Lakers decimated the Celtics in this category in Game 1, as evidenced by their 12 offensive rebounds, and that aforementioned 16-0 tilt in second chance points. Doc Rivers said in his postgame press conference that he hoped his team wasn't suffering from a lack of effort, but both Pierce and Garnett chalked it up to the C's being not willing to go the extra mile. It's one thing to not give everything during the dog days of the regular season, but to not be going all out, all the time in the NBA Finals is flat out inexcusable. Personally, I think the C's needed the wake-up call that was Game 1, and I fully expect to see the aggressive, hustling team we're accustomed to in Game 2 tonight. Because it sure would be a shame to lose this game and this series simply because the C's weren't trying hard enough.

As always, let's go Celtics.

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