“When we make a run, everyone is standing up, clapping their hands,” he said. “There wasn’t none of that tonight. A lot of hang your heads after they make a tough shot.”
The Celtics didn’t do a lot of running in a 102-89 loss to the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA finals. They didn’t do a lot of rebounding either and the two things are explicitly linked. All in all, it was pretty much a wasted night.
“Ain’t nothing else to say, it was all effort,” Perkins said. “They attacked the glass, they beat us off the dribble and they got the second-chance shots. They outworked us at every position. We were off-rhythm in everything. Everything we tried to do we were a tad slow. We were mistiming jumps. Long rebounds were bouncing, two guys were standing there looking at it waiting for one guy to get it. That happened all night.”
The Celtics bore little resemblance to the team that steamrolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs and it was clear, yet again, that there are no shortcuts for this team. They can’t afford to get outworked because despite all their individual talent, they are no longer a team that can win on sheer ability and they haven’t been for some time.
Their offense comes from their defense and their defense didn’t generate any transition chances. It wasn’t just the rebounding, which really comes down to Pau Gasol who had eight of the 12 offensive boards for the Lakers.
The Celtics also didn’t force turnovers and they simply can’t win when they fail to do either of those things.
The game was lost in the third quarter when they were outscored 34-23, outrebounded by the astonishing figure of 11-2 and allowed the Lakers to shoot 53 percent, while also sending them to the free throw line 15 times.
The Celtics were angry with themselves and they should have been.
“It wasn’t a typical loss locker room,” Paul Pierce said. “There were some angry people in there. But that’s just pride. The guys in there got pride and don’t want to lose the way we did. We’re down 20 and they beat us to the hustle plays. That don’t sit well with me.”
Fair enough, because if the Celtics are going to go back to Boston with a split they’re going to have to tap into that angry way that has carried them to this point.
The funny thing, or maybe the good thing depending on how you choose to look at it, is that while they got beat handily, they didn’t get blown out. They played terribly, probably the worst they’ve played since the Game 3 debacle against Cleveland and they still dominated play in the fourth quarter.
That’s what they have to get back in Game 2 and it starts with Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol.
SCORE ONE FOR GASOL
For as long as this series goes, the Laker big man is going to be asked variations of the same question, which is: “Are you still soft?”
It’s an unfair question, not to mention ridiculous, to ask of a player who is at worst the second-best big man in the NBA, but so much of the 2008 finals loss from the Lakers perspective has been tied to Gasol and his alleged Charmin-esque play that he’s just going to have to live with it.
“There was no statement to be made,” Gasol said. “My goal, or goal is to win the championship, not just the first game and not just to make a statement right now.”
Whether it was a statement or not, Gasol dominated this game. Dominated it more than Kobe Bryant even, who was pretty freaking good in his own right. Gasol scored 23 points and had 14 rebounds (eight on the offensive glass) and the big huge blinking-neon number in this game was the 16-0 disparity in second-chance points.
“He was great,” Perkins said. “He seemed like he played like he had a chip on his shoulder tonight. He was attacking, very physical.”
His counterpart Kevin Garnett finished with 16 points, which doesn’t seem so terrible until you note that he had only four rebounds and two of those were cheap offensive boards.
The absolute nadir of the Celtics performance in Game 1 came when Garnett barely even got an attempt off on a put-back in the third quarter. Garnett dominated Michael Beasley, Antwan Jamison and Rashard Lewis, but they’re not in Gasol’s class and Garnett has to be even better than he was in those series.
As bad as he played, and he was outplayed decisively, it’s not all on Garnett.
The Celtics repeatedly gave away the paint when Laker guards broke through the first line of defense with their dribble penetration.
“We didn’t shrink the floor at all tonight,” Doc Rivers said. “In the first half it made the bigs look bad because they were getting offensive rebounds, but it wasn’t [their] fault. Before the game we told them the key to the game was rebounding, dribble penetration. We stop those two things, we’ll be in good shape, but we didn’t do either one.”
Gasol gets a lot of credit for being the beneficiary of those breakdowns and he earned it, but if the Celtics are going to shut him down in this series it has to start before he even gets the ball because if he is allowed to continue playing volleyball with misses, it will be a shorter series than anyone predicted. Defensive rebounding is that important.
“It’s fixable,” Rivers maintained. “But we have to do it.”
The first foul came 27 seconds into the game. That one, Ray Allen said later, was the most legit. The second foul came about five minutes later and that sent him to the bench.
The third came in the second quarter and that didn’t help matters. The fourth one didn’t either. But it was the fifth foul, which came on a phantom call on a Bryant jump shot that was the one that bothered him the most.
“I was nowhere near him,” Allen said. “I didn’t touch him. When he drove I moved my feet with him and once he went for the shot, I stayed right there.”
What was he thinking after the call?
“It’s not my night,” he said. “We’ve got guys that are capable, but honestly I don’t want to sit from the sideline and watch. It is frustrating, but it is part of the game. I’ve played with foul trouble before and know you pick up those minutes later on in the game, but it wasn’t the case.”
Allen played just 27 minutes and scored just 12 points on eight shots. He had two 3-point attempts and missed them both. In that Allen wasn’t alone. The Celtics made only one 3-pointer in 10 tries and was further evidence that the Lakers are one of the best teams in the league at defending the shot.
“I watched the game from the sideline,” he said. “I was frustrated. I got a bad whistle tonight, what can I do?”
A better question is: What can the Celtics do when Allen isn’t on the court? The Celtics got almost nothing from their transition game – five points on six fast-break chances – and that goes back to the rebounding problems.
“We’re a running team,” Perkins said. “Rondo didn’t get any transition buckets tonight. That’s not like us. We have to do a better job of pushing the tempo but we have to get stops first. When we got stops we fouled them.”
Without Allen in the game the Celtics halfcourt offense devolved into a series of one-pass or ISO plays with little movement or chemistry. They had 19 assists on 29 made shots, which seems high actually, but then they only made 29 shots and shot just 43 percent.
The Lakers put Bryant on Rondo right from the outset and that seems like it’s going to be the norm, rather than the exception in this series. That leaves Allen on Derek Fisher, who may be old, but like the Celtics themselves he is crafty.
Still, Allen should be able to score against Fisher, but he has to be on the court to do so and here’s where the Celtics have a difficult decision to make.
Allen was in foul trouble primarily because he was guarding Bryant. Tony Allen should be the first option behind Ray, but he also spent the night in foul trouble and was completely ineffective offensively when he was in the game.
That leaves Pierce who does defend Bryant well, but what do you do with Ron Artest? The Celtics had success matching Allen up with LeBron James when Pierce was in foul trouble and stretching the fouls, as Rivers calls it, and that’s a common-sense adjustment.
But really all of this comes back to Ray Allen. The Celtics need him offensively to make their halfcourt offense work, but more than that, they need him on the court.
WHAT TO MAKE OF RONDO’S NIGHT?
Rajon Rondo played almost 40 minutes. He scored 13 points and had eight assists. He also had half of the Celtics offensive rebounds, but none of those numbers impacted the game in any meaningful way.
Again, chalk it up to rebounding. (Just past that on a loop and press repeat). But the Celtics can’t run all night even when they do hit the glass and when they are in the halfcourt Rondo is staring at two problems.
The first is Bryant who is bigger, obviously, and who is giving him 10 feet of space. “Rondo has seen that,” Rivers said. “That’s nothing new for Rondo.”
If Rondo does get past him, he runs straight into problem No. 2: Andrew Bynum.
Bynum isn’t the defender that Dwight Howard is, but he is big and he is simply laying in wait in the paint for him.
“They did a good job collapsing when I did get a chance to get inside the paint,” Rondo said. “They’re very long, Gasol and Bynum. Fish is very clever. They did a great job of mixing it up. I’ve got to sometimes attack, make the refs make the call.”
Of all the individuals in this series, Rondo is the one who has to play like a superstar for the Celtics. He is the one player for whom the Lakers don’t have an obvious answer.
But like the rest of them, Rondo’s performance is tied to other problems. Rebounding, defensive positioning, forcing turnovers, the Celtics did absolutely none of those things well in Game 1 and if they don’t improve each of them they will be going back to Boston with a 2-0 deficit.
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