The Finals So Far

Awesome. Pure awesome. What an amazing game. Great defense. A record-setting offensive explosion from Ray Allen. A triple-double from Rajon Rondo. And key contributions and effort from Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, and Nate Robinson. The Finals are heading back to Boston tied 1-1. This is exactly where I expected them to be before the series began, and it keeps the Celtics on pace to win it in 6 (2-3 at home, Game 6 in L.A.). Now it just remains to determine what the Celtics did in Game 2 that they did not do in Game 1 that led to this victory and try to determine how to use that to win the championship.

The first difference between the two games, and probably the most important one, was rebounding. In Game 1, the Celtics lost both the offensive rebounds battle (8-12) and the total battle (31-42). In Game 2 they won both of those battles, 13-10 and 44-39, respectively. Rebounding makes a huge difference for the Celtics because it affects both their defense and their scoring. Securing the rebound allows the Celtics to get the ball to Rondo in tradition, who can then push it up the court before the Lakers defense can respond and get back into position. Tonight this enabled better inside shooting. Whereas in Game 1 Boston was out-shot in the paint 30-48, tonight they were the better inside shooters, putting up 36 while allowing L.A. just 26.

Better rebounding also enabled more and better perimeter looks for our key shooters. And by key shooters, I mean Ray Allen, who was ungodly tonight. He shot eight treys, an NBA finals single-game record, as part of his 32 total points. However, this is not to say that the Celtics were selfish with the ball. Their assist total went up from 19 to 28. They did a much better job of driving, forcing defenses to shift, then passing out of the rotation to find the open man. This led to four of five starters scoring in double digits, and three bench players getting at least seven (the bench also increased its scoring production tonight, putting up 24 to last game’s 15).

Overall, the Celtics played tonight with greater energy and urgency, not wanting to return home down 2-0. The defense did an excellent job of swarming their shooters and contesting every shot. While this put them on the line too many times (41 free throw attempts), the defense still refused to back down. Despite Garnett, Davis, Wallace, and Perkins all finishing the game with four or more fouls, none of them fouled out of the game, nor did they allow easy layups to their Lakers counterparts. L.A.’s low number of assists shows that Boston did an excellent job of cutting off extra passes and forcing the Lakers into a one-possession offense, only capable of getting off one shot each time they came up the court. This is also evident in Boston’s edge at in offensive rebounds.

Maybe the most interesting thing about this game is how Boston won despite good games from just two of its starters. Ray Allen was insane, showing us what he can do when he’s not sitting due to foul trouble and is in proper shooting rhythm. And while it took awhile, Rondo finished the game with a quiet little triple-double, putting up 12 rebounds and 10 assists to go with his 19 points. But that was it. Kevin Garnett was just about useless during this game. Paul Pierce did his damage defensively, but most of his points came from the free-throw line. When your third-best scorer only puts up 12 (Perkins), it says something about your offense. The Celtics made it happen with just two players contributing more than token amounts offensively, and that does not bode well for the L.A. Lakers. God knows what would happen if the Celtics had the kind of game they’re capable of, where six or seven players score in double-digits. Were this to happen once, the Lakers would get destroyed (assuming the same defensive intensity and rebounding success). Were this to happen a few times, the Celtics would raise Banner 18. And after two games, that’s exactly what I see happening.

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