There is no secret formula for the Celtics. No magical concoction or spiritual chant that can be used to summon the spirit of a once-proud team.
It’s all so very simple actually. When the Celtics play their defense the way it is supposed to be played and when they share the ball offensively, they still can be a devastating team.
The Celtics beat Miami 106-77 Tuesday night at the Garden (click here for the complete recap) to take a 2-0 lead in their first round series and it wasn’t even that close. The decisive stretch — you can’t even call it a run — was 44-8. Repeat that slowly and let it swirl around your head: Forty-four to eight.
“Today, everybody was on the same page,” said Kendrick Perkins, who was dominant inside. “Guys were tied on a string, helping the help. I thought we did a great job of that tonight. Without [Kevin Garnett, who was suspended] everyone has to be on the same page.”
It will probably be suggested somewhere that somehow Garnett’s absence was the best thing that could have happened to this team and that would be wrong. Before he allowed Quentin Richardson to get the best of him, Garnett was instrumental in the Celtics' Game 1 victory.
If some of the Celtics played harder and smarter to make up for his absence then that’s on them and if they fall back into bad habits when he returns in Game 3, then that’s on them as well. Garnett may not be the player he once was, but he is no more responsible for his teammates’ effort than anyone else, and that’s what this was about: effort.
“We hated to see Kevin not with us,” Ray Allen said. “When I found out that morning, I just said that we’ve got to buckle up our bootstraps and play a little bit harder. Glen and Perk were zoned in tonight. They made the plays that Kevin always makes.”
The talk all season has been about motivation and focus — or the lack thereof — and if the message didn’t get through with all the negative reinforcement, then perhaps some positive energy will help them see the light.
There are no shortcuts for the Celtics. Truthfully, there weren’t any available to them when they were the baddest team in the NBA, and there aren’t any now.
“It became about, again, a lack of mental toughness for us and we collapsed.”
That was Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s quote, but it could have been said by anyone in green after any number of dreadful Celtics losses this season. For a change it was the Celtics who dictated the terms of play and if they are going to do anything this postseason that has to be the norm, not just a one-game flashback to the good old days.
But it was quite a night for the Celtics, which leads us into our three things:
THE TICKET STUB IS PUNCHED
This really wasn’t a difficult decision for Doc Rivers. The primary reason for starting Glen Davis instead of Rasheed Wallace was named Michael Beasley.
“Honestly, guys it wasn’t as tough as you might think,” Rivers said. “I was so concerned about Beasley. Number One, I was concerned about their pick and roll game and that pick and roll game requires a lot of rotation from the bigs. And you need one of your bigs to have great speed, and so not having Kevin you needed Baby.”
Rivers said he counted 36 pick-and-rolls involving Dwyane Wade in Game 1, and the dirty little secret of that game for the Celtics was that Wade killed them for 2-1/2 quarters. Much of the credit for slowing him down went to Tony Allen, and it was deserved, but it was also in the finest cliché tradition, a total team effort.
Davis is simply quicker than Wallace, and that was that. But Davis did something else when he was handed this opportunity: He dominated on both ends of the floor, scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds, while holding Beasley to a nondescript 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting.
Davis lived at the free throw line early in the game, which helped make up for his continuing struggle to finish at the rim. But once he got untracked, he was unstoppable.
“We have respect for him but that’s a case where one man impacted the game simply with his effort,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t think they ran one play for him. I would be shocked if they had one play in their playbook for Glen Davis. How do you deal with a player like that? You can not let one man’s effort exceed yours; it’s as simple as that.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Davis (and Perkins) destroyed the Miami big men. Jermaine O’Neal shot 1-for-10 and was a complete non-factor.
“I just knew the Big Ticket was out and the Ticket Stub had to fly in,” Davis said, using one of his many nicknames. “That’s all I know. I do what the coaches want me to do. Today they needed the Ticket Stub, and the Ticket Stub came.”
Whether it’s been the Ticket Stub, Big Baby or even Uno-Uno, Davis has had something of a difficult time figuring out exactly where he fits this season. He missed the first 27 games of the season after injuring his hand in a fight before the season opener and has had to figure out if he is the jump-shooting scorer that burst on the scene during the playoffs last season or the energy guy off the bench.
He has had major trouble finishing around the basket, although the driving hook shot he flashed Tuesday night should be a go-to move for him in the future. Where he has flourished is as an offensive rebounder, which is a glaring weakness for this team.
Davis is still young, still in the discovery stage of his career, but he showed last night that he can be more than just a complimentary piece.
He also has the postgame press conference thing down cold.
“[Garnett] told me before the game to make sure I do what I got to do and be physical,” Davis said. “And that anything is possible.”
With that, Paul Pierce motioned that it was time go. Always leave on a good line, but nothing was better than the 23 and 8 he put up against the Heat.
EVERYBODY ON THE GLASS
Dig deep enough through the numbers, and for all the Celtics problems this season the biggest issue they have is rebounding. Some have pointed the figure at the big men, and they have had their struggles, but as Rivers has been saying since November, the bigger culprit is stopping dribble penetration.
Once a player breaks through the first wall of the Celtics defense, someone comes to help, which leaves someone else open and so on. Help, rotate, recover. This is basic, fundamental basketball and has been the basis for every good thing the Celtics have done during the Garnett era.
In Game 1, the Heat predictably took advantage of this weakness with 12 offensive rebounds. This wasn’t the case in Game 2 and it had its roots in a number of different things, but as always with rebounding, it comes back to effort.
“It was our Number One focus going into the game tonight,” Rivers said. “We had to be dominant. Not good on the glass, we had to have a dominant effort on the glass. That’s what we talked about for two days. Knowing that Kevin wasn’t going to be there, we had to have everybody.”
Rivers zeroed in on an early sequence when Pierce grabbed a couple of key rebounds.
“He’s a great rebounder,” Rivers said. “That’s why I keep saying, ‘team effort.’ I thought his rebounds set the tone early.”
The Celtics were able to survive their lackluster play on the boards in Game 1 by forcing 22 Miami turnovers, but they knew that was fool’s gold. Miami doesn’t do a lot of things well offensively, but the best thing they do is protect the ball. The Celtics simply couldn’t expect to have another game like that in this series.
The Heat missed 49 shots in Game 2 and got only six offensive rebounds. That’s dominating. It started long before the shots were even attempted. The Celtics did their work early and they reaped the benefits in their rebounding totals and on the scoreboard.
INSIDE THE MIND OF A SHOOTER
In his long career, Michael Finley has had a few nights like the one that Ray Allen had in Game 2. Nights when the shots always fall and the looks keep coming, one after another, like he’s practicing in an empty gym with just a ball boy to keep feeding him passes.
It must be an amazing feeling, but it’s not luck or happenstance.
“You have to understand, as good as he was shooting tonight, I wasn’t surprised because I know the kind of work he puts in off the court,” Finley said. “It might not show up as much as we as players want it to, but when it does it’s a good feeling. Every shot he takes he thinks he’s going to make it. When those shots start going in, the basket seems a little bigger. The confidence is already high, but it gets a little bigger. You just trust your stroke.”
Allen has good reason to trust his stroke, of course, but an odd thing happened on his way to make nine of 13 shots and 7-for-9 from beyond the arc for a team-high 25 points. Allen didn’t take a shot in the first quarter.
“I shoot so many shots before the game that once the game starts I’m ready,” Allen said. “I hadn’t taken a shot in the first quarter, so I was coming in the second quarter like I’m 100 percent. I didn’t miss.”
Shooters, it must be said, see the world a little bit differently than the average person. Allen trusts his process so completely that for him a slump is simply a word someone else uses. If the process is right, the results will surely follow.
“That has to be made to happen,” Allen said. “You have to make your own luck. We forced the way the process happened tonight, by us taking care of the ball, we got back on defense, we moved the ball. All those things we controlled both end of the floor just by being proactive.”
Indeed, Allen’s looks were a direct by-product of Davis’ ability to score inside, which in turn opened up the perimeter.
“Initially, the Miami defense was really good on the strong side, but if you make the extra pass the guy is going to be open,” Pierce said. “Once we opened up Glen Davis, I thought they started sinking a little bit more and it opened up Ray.”
After the game, Allen was sporting a bandage on his face where Quentin Richardson scratched him. “Just part of the game,” he said. He also had his nose busted up early in Game 1. And he has to guard Wade on defense and once again Wade was brilliant with 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
“I can’t worry about it,” Allen said. “The guy that I’m guarding, you don’t want him to get big numbers, but two points, three points whatever it is, it goes up on the team. It’s a team effort. You do have that personal agenda that you do want to stop your man, but in today’s game, it’s hard.”
So is stopping him, especially on nights like this when the process ends in the predictable result.