Paul Pierce said they would have to play game two like a game seven.
Doc Rivers said they had three more chances to win in Cleveland. But he also said you don’t ever want to go down 2-0 in a series.
Boston came away with a convincing win that should put a little doubt in Cleveland’s mind and solidify the Celtics’ own feelings that they are coming together at just the right time.
Should the Celtics have lost again, the statistical gods start to overwhelm you with the mathematical hopelessness of trying to come back and win the series. Chances are something like 100-1 but it feels more like 1000 –1.
Add that to the fact that they were playing the NBA’s most successful team, the 61 win Cleveland Cavaliers in their own place where they were also a league best 35-6 this season and 38-6 including a 3-0 record at home against the Chicago Bulls in the first round.
It could have been an epitaph game for a wayward Celtic team in search of answers all season long. Instead, the mighty Men in Green can possibly point to this game as the first shovel of dirt burying the excuses and accusations that were lurking just 48 minutes earlier.
In one short game, the entire complexion of the series has changed.
The Celtics, always believers in themselves, took a huge step in wrestling control of the series from the Cavaliers with a resounding 18 point win, 104-86, in Quickens Loans Arena, and making the Cavaliers look so bad in the process that the Cavalier fans were restless.
Boston looked dominating for most of the game behind Rajon Rondo’s franchise tying 19 assists (tied with Bob Cousy), Ray Allen’s clutch shooting 22 points, and Rasheed Wallace’s best game of the season with 17 explosive points in 18 dynamite minutes of the bench.
Rasheed Finally Answers the Call…and Then Some
Doc Rivers called Sheed out before the game, saying publicly that he must play better. Rasheed answered with a fantastic game and, with both guns blazing, pushed the Celtics into a sizable lead in the second quarter.
Wallace came in with the Celtics leading 16-14 in the 1st period. Just over 7 minutes later, at 8:25 of the second quarter, the Celtics went up 10 points, 38-28 on a three point bomb by Wallace for his 13th points in that span. Wallace went 5 for 5 overall and 3 for 3 from the three point line in that burst. It gave the Celtics an advantage they would not relinquish the rest of the game.
Facilitated by strong passing by Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett shot the Celtics into a larger and larger 3rd quarter lead.
Ray Allen was consistently strong in both halves, hitting 8 of 15 overall and 3 of 7 from the arc, while grabbing 7 rebounds.
Ray and Andy – Not Friends
You may remember, Ray Allen and Anderson Verajeo don’t enjoy each other’s company. Ray once drove his elbow up into Verajeo’s groin area from a kneeling position under the hoop. This time, Verajeo body bumped and knocked Ray Allen off his feet and out of bounds when he was driving to the hoop. Verajeo received a flagrant foul for his efforts.
Ray made the ensuing free throw and responded with a three pointer for revenge to send the Celtics up 78-57
The Beantown Ballers went up by 25 points at 91-66 with 8:32 left in the game before letting up on the gas and relinquishing all but 10 points of the lead. To that point, they held the Cavaliers to .39% shooting on 23 of 59 attempts, were out rebounding the Cavs by 36-26, and holding them to 4 of 15 from the arc.
Boston Clock Watching
The Cavs called a time out at that point. Boston started playing against the clock and lolly gagged up and down the court, getting away from the focus and energy that got them the big lead. J.J. Hickson and Lebron James became a 1-2 scoring punch for the Cavs. The duo scored 13 unanswered points and a Delonte West set of free throws got Cleveland to within 91-81 with 4:33 left.
Doc Rivers called a time out, and read his team the riot act. The Celtic starters responded by out scoring the Cavs 13-5 the rest of the way to win by 18 points.
The Celtics finished with all 5 starters and 6 players in double figures.
Kevin Garnett shot the ball 21 times (8 makes) for the second straight game with 20 or more attempts, and scored 18 points to go with his game leading 10 rebounds. I like the fact that Doc wants him to be more involved scoring. KG had 4 of his shots blocked and I don’t know if that has ever happened before. His shot used to be unblockable.
Garnett anchored an active and cohesive Celtic defense. This defense was smothering for long periods of time, especially in the critical 3rd period when the Celtics outscored the Cavs 31-12. The Celtic defense looked much like it did during their championship season.
The Celtics did a particularly good job on the Cavalier guards. Mo Williams went 1 for 9 and Tony Parker finished just 2 for 7 shooting.
Rajon Rondo finished another tremendous performance with 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting including a three pointer at the end of the first period. Rajon added 4 rebounds, 2 steals but 6 turnovers. But it was his game control and passing that stood out. Rondo is truly leading this Celtic team
Turnovers hurt the Celtics in an otherwise strong first quarter with 7. The Cs came out with purpose and focus, hitting 10 of 15 shots including 3 of 4 three pointers. At the same time they held the Cavs to just 9 of 24 shooting (.375%). Yet, Boston only led 26-22 because of carelessness with the ball.
Paul Pierce gaurded Lebron James most of the night and did a good job on him, though one wonders if James’ elbow isn’t bothering him more than he is letting on. James finished with 24 points on 7 of 15 shooting, with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers.
Pierce scored 14 points on 4 of 10 shooting and 4-4 from the foul line to go with 4 assists, 4 rebounds, a steal, and 4 turnovers. While Pierce had a steal, he was concentrating on straight up defense most of the night.
Kendrick Perkins played a terrific defensive game against Shaq and the Cavs while adding 5 of 6 shooting for 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Bench Comes Through
Glen Davis played an active 13 minutes, scoring 6 points with 2 rebounds, while adding a steal, giving the ball up to Rondo and getting it right back again for a lay up in the second quarter. He also drew an offensive foul on Shaq right after that.
Davis also caused Verajeo to loose the ball out of bounds in the 3rd quarter and got fouled shooting moments later, amking both free throws to go up 83-60.
Tony Allen played 15 minutes, played defense against Lebron, stole the ball twice, grabbed 4 rebounds and blocked a shot, while scoring 4 points.
So, this series, and the Celtics’ chances turned around in this one game. They played 30 minutes of dominating basketball in the first game and lost.
This time they played 40 minutes of solid dominating defense and won in a walk. If they continue to play defense this cohesively and get the offense to work as well as it did in this contest, the Celtics will be upsetting a title favorite and moving on to play the winner of the Hawks/Magic series.
But as good of a road team as these Celtics have been, they can’t say the same at home. If Wallace can finally string together a number of solid games in a row, this series becomes much more evenly matched.
In that event, I like the Celtics chances. After Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace is a key player in this series.
The next game is Friday in Boston.