Save the Eraser, Phil; Boston Takes Game One
When it comes right down to it, the Celtics won this game. I mean that in the sense that they won it more than the Lakers lost it. The final score was 98-88 but it felt much closer.
After a lackluster first half, at the end of which they trailed by five, the Celtics came away with the victory by clamping down on defense and standing tall down the stretch. They were notably led by a gritty effort from the Captain Paul Pierce and by their two defensive towers in Kevin Garnett and P.J. Brown.
There was, of course, the drama surrounding Pierce when he went down with a strained knee early in the third quarter. This was on the heels of Pierce scoring 8 points in the first 1:20 of the third and breathing life to a previously stalled Boston offense. When Pierce was carried off the court by teammates, Celtics fans were immediately doing the mental math on how Boston could replace Pierce’s production. The equation looked like a disaster. Thankfully, Pierce returned after a brief checkout in the locker room and delivered back-to-back dagger threes later in the quarter. He finished with 22 points on an efficient 7-10 shooting line, including 3-4 from deep waters.
Garnett was a big factor early in the game, scoring 8 of Boston’s first 14 points and finishing with after two. He went ice cold in the second half, however, at least until he delivered a backbreaking throw down dunk over Pau Gasol off a missed three by James Posey. The play happened with 1:32 left in the game and put Boston back up by 8, at 94-86. It was simply devastating to the Lakers’ chances. Although Los Angeles hardly threw in the towel, you could still see the wind fall out of their sails at that point. Garnett finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Both teams came out of the gates in the first quarter looking a bit out of sorts, especially Boston with their 3 turnovers in the first three minutes. Garnett subsequently set the tone with his early offense. Ray Allen then chipped in 5 points in a 24 second span to extend Boston’s lead to 5 with 3 minutes left to play in the first. At the end of one, Boston held a tenuous 23-21 lead.
Through much of the second quarter, Boston held onto the lead, growing to as high as five at one point but eventually relinquished it at the 4:17 mark on a Derek Fisher free throw. Throughout the second frame, Boston had difficulty defending the pick and roll and the Lakers were able to find the open man for several easy baskets. Of note, in the second, the Lakers had fallen into the penalty with over seven minutes left to go, but the Celtics weren’t able to capitalize, only earning one more foul for freebies for the remainder of the quarter. For the most part, the Celtics settled for jumpers while their rare trips into the paint typically resulted in blocked shots or turnovers.
The Lakers shot over 50% in the first half but finished with a lowly 41.6% overall. Kobe Bryant had an off-night, shooting only 9-26 and reaching the line only six times. While the Boston defense was strong on Bryant, a better performance is anticipated from the offensive supernova going forward. As they say, Be Afraid.
Sam Cassell’s line of 8 points on 4-9 shooting wasn’t accurately reflective of his poor play and categorically insane shot selection. The fact that some of those shots actually fell and that Lindsey Hunter was no longer harrassing him on defense were not sufficient drivers to justify Cassell’s seemingly endless 13 minute stint. Rondo had played well enough down the stretch at the end of the third quarter to justify a bried respite and yet Doc Rivers chose to keep Cassell in the game for nearly halfway through the fourth. Of note, Rondo finished with 15 points, many of those on knocked down jumpers in the face of the sustained “I Dare You” defense against him. He also had 7 assists (two more than Ray Allen’s 5, all in the first half).
As indicated above, P.J. Brown was once again a factor. He finished with 2 points and 6 rebounds but the line does no justice to the job done by the veteran, who always seemed to be where the loose balls were bouncing during his time on the court in the fourth quarter. His presence was especially needed with Kendrick Perkins hindered by early foul trouble and then later by an ankle injury in the third quarter. The 38 year old big who was semi-retired a mere four months ago once again answered the bell when called upon.
In the end, Boston’s Big Three (65 points combined) outplayed LA’s Big Two and the Celtics’ team defense arrived in time to shut down the Not-Quite-Showtime Lakers’ offense.
On Phil Jackson’s whiteboard, the magic number “4” is written. This, of course, signifies the amount of requisite wins remaining for the Lakers to win the championship. Save the eraser, Phil. For at least another couple nights anyway.
[top image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nu_husky_91/]