It was a win that Celtics players and coaches are certainly happy to get, but more relieved to get than anything else.
Going into the game, reports were that Knicks starting point guard Chauncey Billups wouldn't play - he didn't. But even so, Toney Douglass was thought of to be a suitable replacement. Douglas, who leads the league since the All-Star Break in three-pointers made, had a sub-par night.
He scored 14, but his defense on Rajon Rondo - especially in the first quarter - was nonexistent. It's obvious the game plan was to sag off Rondo, but boy did Douglas take that literally.
Hey Toney, it might be a good idea to step up on him once he gets in the paint - give him that much respect anyways.
In Douglas' defense, Rondo was a piece of work tonight. Jeff Clark put it best: "To say that Rajon Rondo was "aggressive" to start the game would be a vast understatement. He was a predator and he smelled blood and kept going after the soft underbelly of the Knicks defense."
That was fun to watch, sparking the Celtics and opening up a nice lead - that is until their bench came in and ruined it for everyone.
The bench got a pass in Game 1 for their rather uninspiring play, but there will be no such pass allowed after Tuesday night's showing. Do not pass go, and do not collect the thousands of dollars you made Tuesday night, because quite frankly, it wasn't earned.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers elected to go with Delonte West, Ray Allen, Jeff Green, Glen Davis, and Nenad Krstic for the remaining three minutes of the first quarter. A Ray Allen three-pointer built the C's lead to ten points. They proceeded to let the Knicks score the next eight points, and only led 23-21 when the second quarter started. Carmelo Anthony netted a pair of three-point plays, and Anthony Carter banked one in too.
That didn't make the captain happy, who watched it all unfold from the sidelines and was forced back into the game at the start of the second quarter, the lead he helped build - gone.
"[The bench has] to understand that it has to come with the defense," Pierce said. "Sometimes I think guys are worried about getting up points and getting the ball. The main focus should be on the defensive end and things will happen for them. They have to be our energy group out there causing turnovers, rebounding, running the ball. So hopefully we can get them to understand that and they'll be better as the series goes along.
The time when the lack of bench production was blamed on "getting comfortable around each other" is over.
"It's about effort truthfully," Pierce said. "That group, if they can go out and just play hard, rebound, scrap, play defense, and maintain the lead when we get it, that's really what it's all about. We can't have a ten-point lead [then the] bench comes in and squanders it right away. Hopefully they can withstand that. You know what's at stake, it's the playoffs, so every possession is big.
The bench combined to go minus-32 tonight. It's something that needs to be fixed, and fixed before Friday's game in New York. No doubt the Knicks will be hungry for a win, and playing in front of the home crowd will only make them better. Pierce and Allen can't play 48 minutes - they need help.
"The whole team I think needs to obviously assess each other's play," Kevin Garnett said. "I think we need to assess it from a personal [standpoint] and I think all of us need to play better. I think we have the ability to play better."
Take a look at Garnett's stat line; there's nothing sexy about it: 6-16 from the field for 12 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists (ok, the assists stand out). But the truth is, Garnett won this game for the C's in the final minute.
Down one point, Rondo inbounded the ball to Garnett - not Allen or Pierce. One-on-one with Jared Jeffries, Garnett backed him down into the paint, turned, and hooked his shot over the reaching Jeffries. Swish.
"Fortunately that was a play that we drew up this morning," Pierce said. "That's all about paying attention to the X's and O's and concentrating and executing down the stretch."
Because the Knicks were pressing hard on Pierce and Allen, that left Garnett as the guy who was going to get the call.
"It was interesting," Allen recalled. "The play wasn't even for Kevin the way we ran it. But we threw it to him - Rondo threw it to him - and I'm glad he did because that proves big for us even going into the next game."
"Most of our plays have several different options in them, but it involved me, Paul, and Kevin at some point. Tonight they didn't double Kevin. We had a game plan where they're doubling him and we try to stay spaced and I think we kind of had to readjust to how they played him."
The basket made it 94-93 Celtics, but the Knicks still had 13.3 seconds to win it - way too much time, especially with a guy like Anthony as hot as he was (42 points).
The Celtics found a way to shut down Amar'e Stoudemire in the closing minutes of Game 1 by clamping down on him and denying him the ball. They prevented Anthony from scoring in the final 2:37 of Game 2 by double-teaming him and making sure he didn't have any clean looks.
This wasn't more apparent than the final shot of the game. Guarded by Pierce, Anthony received the ball at the three-point line. Immediately, Glen Davis left his man, Jeffries, and ran out to double Anthony.
"It was interesting because we had to wonder if we went at him was he going to give the ball up and was there going to be somebody open," Allen said. "So with the three guys behind the ball it's almost like you got to guess, and you have to anticipate. So it's like me being low on [Ronnie] Turiaf but getting out to [Roger] Mason so he doesn't shoot a three.
As he should have done, Anthony got it to Jeffries.
That's where Kevin Garnett came in.
Garnett got up in Jeffries under the hoop and got a hand on the pass that Jeffries intended for Bill Walker. Once that happened, Garnett pounced on it, calling timeout and essentially sealing the deal for Boston.
"What's crazy is I don't remember anything about tonight," Garnett said. "I just know I had the steal and at that point I'm just reacting more than anything to be honest-nothing more, nothing less than that."