It was said in the immediate aftermath of the Kevin Garnett elbow that launched a thousand blog posts that the Celtics and Heat are officially, “in a series now.”
That’s true in a way, but while the weird KG-Quentin Richardson-Paul Pierce triangle has kept the fires burning over the last few days, the series doesn’t really begin until we see how the two teams adjust for Game 2.
Both the Heat and the Celtics have ample room to improve upon an opening game in which Miami uncharacteristically turned it over 22 times and the Celtics season-long problems with offensive rebounding manifested itself.
The Celtics should count themselves fortunate to have won the opener — despite trailing by as many as 14 points in the third quarter — but the work is far from over.
Garnett’s suspension means that Doc Rivers and company will have to adjust on the fly. Whether it’s Glen Davis or Rasheed Wallace who gets the start in Garnett’s place, both will play a significant role. We might even see Shelden Williams at some point.
It’s not the only significant adjustment that will be made, but it’s a decent place to start.
THE KG EFFECT
The Celtics have had nothing but praise for Michael Beasley (which may be a psych-out job) but with Garnett unavailable, they expect Beasley will have a larger role in Miami’s offense after taking just eight shots and scoring six points in Game 1.
“I’m sure they’ll go to Michael Beasley more,” Rivers said Monday afternoon. “That’s an obvious adjustment without Kevin. When you take him off the floor usually the guy he was guarding will get the ball more if he’s an offensive player and Michael Beasley is a terrific offensive player.”
Beasley is quick, athletic and skilled. In terms of a one-on-matchup, Davis would seem to have the physical edge on Wallace. Of course, Wallace has getting by on defense for years with his mind as much as his body.
“I ain’t no slouch,” Wallace said after one too many questions about defending Beasley. “I know how to play D, man. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
The other area of concern for Rivers is making up for Garnett’s presence on offense. Garnett scored 15 points and got up for a number of dunks, and the Celtics had all kinds of problems finishing the rim against Miami’s interior defense. Garnett is also a skilled passer who is adept at keeping the ball moving on the perimeter.
“In the first game a lot of our open shots came off Kevin being involved in the play,” Rivers said. “That’s my biggest concern. It’s not a high-scoring offensive game to start with, it loses us 18 points, but more importantly it loses all the picks, all the post-ups, all the attention that he got where they had to overload and we lose that. That’s big.”
The Celtics have been able to overcome Garnett’s absence at times over the last two seasons. The good news for them is they only have to do it for one game.
IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT D-WADE
A funny thing happened on the way to the Celtics “shutting down” Dwyane Wade in Game 1. He still scored 26 points and was 11-for-18 with six assists. They did, however, force seven turnovers from Wade and 22 from the Heat.
“Everyone was saying we were so good against Wade and he was 11-for-what, 18?” Rivers said. “That means you’re really good when you shoot that high a percentage and they say you struggle and you shut him down. We did force turnovers and that’s just active hands. He’s not a mistake-prone player, so you know it’s not going to happen twice.”
Rivers is no dummy. He’s been around this game long enough to know that when a player of Wade’s caliber is challenged for his performance, bad things can be right around the corner.
However, the Celtics — and specifically Tony Allen — did do a marvelous job of containing Wade over the final 18 minutes of the game. He didn’t miss shots because he wasn’t able to take them. That’s what led to the turnovers and Miami’s general inefficiency on the offensive end.
But Wade is very good at making adjustments during a series, as Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 2, and Rivers knows it.
“We want to a better job on Wade,” Rivers said. “I thought Wade got everything he wanted to be honest and we got some deflections and some steals out of it. We’d like to get those, but we can not give him the looks that he had.”
Count on seeing a lot more of Tony Allen whenever Wade looks like he’s about to bust out. Rivers didn’t hesitate to bring Tony in to replace Ray Allen and he even kept T.A. on the floor in crunch time over Ray for a stretch.
Speaking of Ray Allen…
THE CELTICS NEED A HEALTHIER BALANCE
Ray Allen took nine shots in Game 1 and made two of them. He took four 3-pointers and missed all of them. He scored just eight points and struggled trying to contain Wade. (In defense of Ray’s D, the Celtics team defense was noticeably lacking for the first two and a half quarters when Wade did the majority of his damage).
The Celtics need more from Allen, obviously, and they specifically need more from their perimeter game. They were just 1-for-6 from 3-point range and while they clearly wanted to attack Miami inside, a few falling 3’s would do a lot to help loosen things up.
Rivers has stressed all season the need for his team to play from the inside out, but the Heat have one of the best interior defenses in the league. They were credited with just five blocked shots, but in Jermaine O’Neal and Joel Anthony they have two very good shot blockers and they bothered the Celtics all night in Game 1.
Except for a brief flurry from Pierce late in the third quarter the Celtics did most of their scoring from the interior, and again, that’s usually a good thing. But to beat a team that is as good as Miami is defensively, they will need to spread it around more.
OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING STARTS ON THE PERIMETER
Early in the third quarter three Celtics stood flat-footed and dumbfounded as Wade soared in for an offensive rebound and an easy dunk. Rivers called a timeout simply to unleash some venom, and it seemed to get his team’s attention.
But this has been a season-long problem for the Celtics, and while the big men get most of the blame (some of it deserved), their inability to keep other teams off the offensive glass is a team-wide issue.
The Celtics defense is predicated on stopping the ball and then recovering quickly if it gets reversed. In the good old days (which weren’t so long ago) this was a given, but they have had problems with both aspects this season.
The end result has often been breakdowns in coverage, players having to cover for other’s mistakes and ultimately unattended players waiting eagerly for offensive rebounds. That’s a lot to clean up but a good place to start would be on the ball.
That’s what made Tony Allen so effective on Wade when he checked into the game. He was able to stop Wade’s initial rush to the basket and that, in turn, jammed up Miami’s offense. The Celtics need that kind of play for more than just a quarter and a half, especially without Garnett to cover for them.
In the first quarter the Heat and Celtics combined for 57 points, or 35 percent of the total for the entire game. Both teams used 25 possessions in the first quarter, which is fast for the Celtics and positively Usain Bolt-ian for the methodical Heat.
Things slowed down considerably after that and so did the offensive production for both teams. The Heat only gained their big lead when Wade took over at the beginning of the third quarter. After that they couldn’t get any rhythm going on offense.
The obvious number that jumped out was the 22 turnovers, which led to 38 Celtic points. Miami is one of the better teams in the league at not turning it over, and that works well with the slow pace it prefers. But it also leaves little margin for error.
Rivers has made no secret of wanting to run when the opportunity presents itself, especially with Rajon Rondo at the controls, but he knows that’s easier said than done.
“I do [want to run], but Miami’s going to play at their pace,” Rivers said. “That’s going to be tough to force them. They handle the ball too well to force them into a different pace. We want to run when we can, but I’m not that concerned about pace.”
The final possession tally came in at 88 for each team, which is slightly lower than Miami’s season-long average of 89 per game, but considering the expectation was that the Heat would slow it down even further, that’s about right for the Celtics. Anything slower than that would be in Miami’s favor.
It’s not as exciting as trying to guess why Pierce and Q-Rich have beef, but in the context of this series, it’s probably more important.