OK, first of all, that was a great basketball game. Lead changes, good defense, hard fouls, everything a basketball fan could want in a playoff game could be found in Saturday night’s game between the Cavaliers and the Celtics. While the game did not go Boston’s way (101-93 Cleveland) it was a still an extremely entertaining game to watch. And there was a lot we could take away from this game that will help us predict what we might see during this series.
First off: Rajon Rondo. 27 points, 12 assists, 12-14 from the free-throw line. While we can’t exactly call him a poor regular season player, he is quickly emerging as an elite playoff player. Since last year he has played out of his mind for every playoff series he has been in, and he keeps getting better. Considering the defensive capabilities of Cleveland, this might have been the best playoff game we’ve seen from Rondo yet. And no one can cover him without triple-teaming and/or fouling him. Expect great things from him this series. He could easily be the best player on the Celtics for this postseason. A double-double average for the series would not surprise me in the least.
On the other side of things, we have Paul Pierce: just 13 points, second-worst among the starters. He started strong, but foul trouble forced him to the bench for much of this game. I believe this took him out of his shooting rhythm, which might explain why his shooting was so cold for the second half. The problem is that he’s going to be covering LeBron James for most of this series. That means he’s gonna be playing with fouls for most of this series. If he can’t get hot in limited minutes, he’s going to be an offensive liability, as he was tonight in the second half.
We’re also seeing that this is going to be an extremely physical match-up with lots of fouls. There were 42 fouls called during this game, leading to 52 free-throws. Both of these teams are good at double-teaming, trapping, and fouling hard to prevent baskets. This means lots of contact. Lots of fouls means both teams are going to be going to their bench more often than they’d like, and this brings me to my next point. Tonight, Cleveland had the far superior bench. Boston’s bench put up a mere 12 points, whereas Cleveland’s bench put up 26 points. Boston’s bench lacks the shooters to hang with Cleveland’s bench, and this poses a real problem. The Celtics starters can build leads, but if the bench can’t score those leads are going to be tough to maintain, especially against a team that shoots as well as Cleveland does.
At halftime, the Celtics were up by 11 points. After three quarters, they were down by one. This lies almost entirely at the feet of the bench. Someone must come off the bench and become the offensive presence the Celtics need. Glen Davis is the best we have, but foul trouble kept him out of much of this game. I think he was put in too early in the game and started racking up fouls too quickly, but that’s just one of several questionable decisions Doc Rivers made during this game. In my opinion, Doc was somewhat out-coached during the second half, as he had no answer to the defensive changes the Cavaliers made at halftime. The Celtics got away from what was a successful first-half offensive game plan, and it’s up to the coach to pull the team back to it. It will be interesting to see what changes Doc Rivers makes for Game 2.
All in all, there is much we can draw from this game. The starters can hang with Cleveland’s, but the bench must step up if Boston wants to win, especially on the road. But any game where you have a lead is a game you can potentially win. The Celtics gave one away tonight in the second half. Expect them to come out fired up for their next game Monday night. Hopefully they will play harder and sustain their drive through four quarters instead of just two. I expect this series to head back to Boston tied at one win apiece. I expect this series to go seven games. And I expect the remaining six games to be just as exciting as this first one was. Bring it on!