The Celtics Stumble, Crumble and Bumble on the Road Again
For the record, only noted author Cormac McCarthy has a bleaker vision of The Road than the 2008 Boston Celtics’ playoff squad.
Or, a note to the Boston Celtics: The New York Knicks called. They want their copyrighted typical first quarter back.
Here we go again. 108-84 Cleveland. On the road, the Celtics reverted once again to the lesser version of themselves. For those of you already aware, that lesser resembles a team substantially softer on defense, inexplicably loses its poise for long stretches against opponents inspired by their home crowd and receives a far less meaningful contribution from their bench. The above-noted trends have been in evidence throughout all four of Boston’s road playoff games. They are officially a pattern.
In a way, as a Celtics fan, if you were to imagine Murphy’s Law played out on a basketball court, you would see a close version of this game. Lax defense? Check. Further poor offensive production from two of your Big Three in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? Check. Grossly ineffective road versions of key bench players Sam Cassell and Leon Powe? Check. A return to strong play of LeBron James’ supporting cast? Check.
In summation, when Ben Wallace looks downright frisky on offense during the first quarter, you pretty much know it isn’t going to be your night. The same sentiment applies when you think, “Joe Smith is killing us!”. Joe Smith. The same guy who sends daily thank you notes to Michael Olowokandi for saving him from being the biggest joke of a number one pick over the last twenty years. I digress.
The shame of the evening, from Boston’s perspective anyway, is that it was the ridiculously lopsided first quarter that ended up being the deciding factor in the game. In that opening frame, the Cavaliers dominated the Celtics with an end result of 32-13 in Cleveland’s favor. After that, the two teams essentially traded baskets for the next three quarters, at least until Doc Rivers finally hung up the white flag with about three minutes to go and the Cleveland reserves subsequently outscored the Boston reserves for the remainder of garbage time
In summary, here are the summary facts to come away with: Cleveland shot 53.6% overall (and 52.6% from behind the arc) versus Boston’s 40.5%. In addition, Cleveland’s point guards compiled 24 points (on 10-15 shooting) and 10 assists as opposed to Boston’s 11 points (on 3 for 19 shooting) and 2 assists. Otherwise, the difference again was that first quarter in which Boston looked listless, losing a game of inches in a seemingly constant loop while Cleveland looked primed to make a statement at home that this series was far from over.
For Boston, technically speaking, the good news is that the Celtics don’t really need to fix their road woes. As long as they hold serve at home throughout the playoffs, they’ll end up being crowned as the NBA champions. That, of course, is far easier said than done. Unlike last season’s incarnation of the Celtics, this is not a young team and an extended series in each round will eventually take their toll on these aged legs that carry so much of the present load. Therefore, although Cleveland remains under pressure to win Game 4 to keep it close, there is some also some real pressure on Boston to figure out why their Dr. Jeckyl plays so strong at home but their alternate Mr. Hyde stumbles so badly on the road.
For those of you seeking drama, you’ve got some because Cleveland just won a game despite the fact that LeBron James has yet to announce his presence with authority. If history is any indicator, that version of LeBron is going to show up at the party and that game is coming. Maybe several of those games. To a lesser degree, on Boston’s end there is still the expectation that Ray Allen will play to form more often than two out of every twelve quarters in this series, especially considering the fact that Wally Szczerbiak is his primary defender.
Regardless, it looks like we’re all back on unstable ground, peeking through fingers and wondering what will come next. At this point, the prognosticators commenting on either or both of these teams are muttering to themselves and the rest of us are left to watch it all play out, surprised by almost nothing.
[top image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/curoninja/]