The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers faced off for the second game in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals series. The first game saw the Celtics build a lead of eleven, only to relinquish it in the third quarter due to poor bench play and cold shooting in the second half. Tonight, there would be no such collapse. The Celtics played hard for three quarters, building up a lead of 23 by the end of the third quarter. While the Cavaliers fought back in the fourth, capitalizing on a series of lazy Boston turnovers, they never got closer than within 10 points from the Celtics. In the end, solid play from the starters and a resurgent bench led by Rasheed Wallace powered Boston to a 104-86 victory, evening the series at one win apiece.
The Celtics on Offense
This game saw the return of vintage Boston offense: even distribution, lots of passing, and a mix of perimeter (nine made three-pointers) and paint scoring (40 points in the paint). Six players scored in double-digits tonight: all five starters, plus Rasheed Wallace (17 points off the bench, one of his best games of the season). The two stand-out players of the night were Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Ray Allen put up 22 points to lead all Boston scorers. Rajon Rondo, meanwhile, put up 13, but contributed far more noticeably with his passing. Rondo passed for 19 assists against Cleveland, tying a Boston record for most assists in a single playoff game. He continues to be the stabilizer for this team, anchoring the offense and overseeing the plays. Kevin Garnett also put up a double-double, scoring 18 and rebounding 10.
Not to be overlooked tonight was the play of the bench. Rasheed Wallace’s performance aside, Boston’s bench put up a total of 27 points. They were able to score enough to keep the lead or build on it when Boston chose to rest its starters. Their combined +/- for the game was +21, whereas Cleveland’s bench, which also scored 27 points, combined for only a -8.
The Celtics on Defense
The Celtics did an excellent job of containing LeBron James tonight, holding him to just 24 points, most of which were scored either in the paint or from the free-throw line (10). They fouled when necessary and played excellent trap defense. They stayed within their rotations and forced the Cavaliers to shoot mostly from the outside. This does not mean they gave up many treys however, as Cleveland shot just four times successfully from behind the line. Most importantly, the Celtics dominated on the boards. They out-rebounded the Cavaliers on both ends of the court, winning the offensive rebounds battle 7-6 and the defensive rebounds battle 36-26. This meant that for the most part Cleveland was only getting one look at the basket each possession, which went a long way towards limiting their scoring.
Heading Back to Boston
The Celtics head back to Boston having won once and led for the other game. They should be returning home with plenty of confidence. As long as the shooting stays hot and the defense continues its intensity, the Celtics can absolutely win this series. It will take lots of grit to accomplish this, as this will be a hard-fought, hard-fouling series the entire way through. The refs seemed content to allow the teams to play tonight, and there’s no reason to expect things to be any different at the TD Garden. The Celtics split the series on the road, but Cleveland has already won once at Boston this season. While Boston winning both games at home is possible, it is not likely. Most likely this series will go seven games. We should expect nothing less from two of the best teams in the NBA.