The Celtics Earn It and Win Game 1
I’m at the game again, in this case Game One of the Eastern Conference Semis between Boston and Cleveland, so I’ll be offering my thoughts in stream-of-consciousness style as the game evening progresses. Here goes.
Before the game, I run down Wally Szczerbiak’s game logs from the Round One series and find myself startled. No, not by his atrocious defense because that kind of thing generally doesn’t show up in the box score. Rather, I am shocked by his line from Game Six, the series clincher. It’s widely known that Wally had a big game with his 26 points in that game but I didn’t realize that he took 13 shots from behind the arc in 33 minutes. 13? Even Antoine Walker thinks that’s just plain ridiculous. To his credit, Szczerbiak did knock down 6 of them, but still. Hey Wally, let’s see you do that ^&%$ again. Seriously. I double-dog dare ya.
As I’m flipping through the 2007-08 Media Guide for the Cavaliers, I recognize a little difference between their publication and those from, say, the Charlotte Bobcats or the Minnesota Timberwolves. The difference is that Cleveland’s guide is all business. Unlike the guides from those lesser teams, the Cavs’ guide only presents the cold hard facts about its players. There’s none of this “Player A says his likes are the Shrek movies and free cars and his primary dislikes are country music and mean people who boo him” human interest nonsense. This is the media guide of team that takes itself seriously. Good for them.
Just before the start of Game One of the series against the Hawks, I wrote that the Boston Garden was amped to the max. I was mistaken. THIS is amped. Higher level series, higher level of intensity, Makes sense.
In the first four minutes, it’s the Celtics who look tight, shooting 0-6 with alligator arms and almost no second chance opportunities.
At 8:13, Paul Pierce picks up his second foul on a ticky-tack call. Next! James Posey comes in to take over the Lebron assignment.
Rajon Rondo has obviously come to play. After bringing the crowd to its feet with a sublime Kidd-like touch pass under the basket to set up a Kendrick Perkins dunk, he converts on three consecutive runners. Somewhere, Jim Paxson punches a wall for trading the pick that resulted in Rondo for Jiri Welch.
LeBron blows by Posey and draws the foul from the last line of defense in Perkins. Even so, it a bright spot in an otherwise pedestrian quarter for King James, who finishes with 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist on 1-4 shooting. Szczerbiak hoists up an 0-5 line but takes some comfort in the fact that the Celtics haven’t yet isolated Ray Allen against him on defense. At the end of the quarter as time expires, James Posey sinks a killer three.
Both teams have done an excellent job of establishing position on the boards, as evidenced by their combined total of three offensive rebounds for the quarter.
For all of his energy, Anderson Varejao is having trouble sticking with Garnett. I wouldn’t have called that one ahead of time.
Sam Cassell knocks down his first jumper after talking some smack to Delonte West, although I couldn’t catch the full exchange. Something about West’s mother being overweight and crashing through the wall yelling Kool-Aid.
Leon Powe is playing poorly. It’s as if he thinks he’s still in Atlanta. Doc Rivers doesn’t seem to notice because he keeps him in the game.
It’s halfway through the second quarter and neither Paul Pierce nor Ray Allen have scored a point. Even so, the Celtics still lead 29-24, mostly on the backs of Garnett and Rondo, who have 22 of those 29 points.
At 5:35, Sam Cassell commit’s a flagrant foul on LeBron. No easy lay-ups in the playoffs, yada yada. On the two possessions that follow, Szczerbiak knocks down consecutive twenty footers in an effort to make me look foolish.
With 0.2 seconds left, Rondo draws an unlikely blocking foul on LeBron James (his first). James looks up at the official from his spot on the floor as if to say, “Um, you might want to check with Commissioner Stern before making that call.” Regardless, the call stands and Rondo knocks down his freebies to finish the half with 15 points (5 of 6 from the field) and five assists. James, meanwhile, finishes with 10 points on 1-6 shooting but with the benefit of 10 trips to the line.
The Celtics lead 41-37 after two quarters. This half isn’t going to be displayed in art museums anytime too soon. Regardless, if you were to tell me that the Celtics would take a four point lead into the locker room after getting a combined 2 points from Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, I’d happily take the result.
At 8:23, LeBron picks up his third foul. The devil put on his winter coat after this unlikely development, just as a precautionary measure.
At the 5:00 mark, the Cavaliers stretch out to a 14-0 run. Eventually, the run is stopped by a Kendrick Perkins free throw. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen continue to conduct their own little masons convention until Pierce finally converts on a left-handed runner in the lane. Mike Brown wants us all to see the Celtics Dancers again so he calls a timeout despite his team’s dominating run.
At 2:12, LeBron picks up his fourth foul and heads to the bench. Pandemonium ensues.
Anderson Varejao draws a hard foul. While at the line, the crowd starts a “Sideshow Bob” chant. It’s funny because it’s true. Sideshow Bob can’t cover Kevin Garnett either.
At the end of the third quarter, in which the teams combined to score 27 hideous points, the Celtics have somehow clung to a 53-52 lead.
James Posey hits a big three early in the quarter. Sam Cassell follows suit on the next possession but the Cavaliers respond with their own 5 point run. For the record, that would’ve been the spot when the Hawks curled up and died. Cassell pushes Cleveland’s veteran poise a bit further, however, with another dagger three, prompting another Cleveland timeout. 7:54 left and Boston leads 64-60. The way things are going in this game, a 4 point lead potentially has some legs.
Sam Cassell, filling in the role of deadly shooter for the erstwhile Ray Allen, has 8 enormous points in the quarter, keeping the Celtics ahead with their thin 3 point lead.
At 2:58, Pierce causes LeBron to travel. Another time out.
Boobie Gibson ties the game with a tough three. On the other end, it’s more rough and tumble and eventually the Celtics turn it over on a shot-clock violation. Every spot for position, every loose bounce is desperately contested. This is honestly playoff basketball at its finest.
After a Cleveland miss, Sam Cassell of all people tears away the rebound and is subsequently knocked to the floor by Ilgauskas. The big Lithuanian knees Cassell in the head for good measure, but Cassell knees the Cavs in the groin by knocking down his free throws.
With under a minute to go, Garnett put the Celtics ahead with a nifty move to the basket, determined not to settle for the jumper.
After sneaking into the lane, LeBron misses a bunny in traffic and Posey recovers the ball. He’s fouled with 8.5 seconds left on the clock. Posey ices the game by increasing the lead to 4 with his freebies. After a timeout, LeBron misses the desperation three. Rondo comes away with the ball and dribbles the ball to freedom as the game clock ticks away to 00.0.
Great game. Scary game if you’re the Celtics on your own court and you beat the Cavaliers by 4 with LeBron scoring only 12. One thing is clear in the aftermath. I’ve said it already but the point deserves reiteration. These aren’t the Hawks. The Cavaliers just keep coming. They don’t lower their heads. They don’t get flustered by loud opposing crowds. They pay no attention to big runs by either side. Like the seasoned team of veterans that they are, they just keep coming.