MIAMI -- Almost everyone had cleared out by the time Ray Allen made his way back to his locker. Impeccably dressed as always, he appeared to be limping, or at least walking gingerly. He had played 38 minutes on an ankle riddled with painful bone spurs and had to defend Dwyane Wade for much of the night. That alone would be enough to make any healthy human move a little slowly.
Allen’s not healthy, of course. He took seven shots, missed six of them, and continued his stunning failures at the free throw line, where he missed four out of seven and two of the first three after he was fouled on a 3-pointer.
“I believe you guys know what I’m dealing with,” Allen said. “There’s nothing really to talk about. It’s like a battle within myself that I have to try and win.”
Allen shouldn’t even be in this position. This was supposed to be Avery Bradley’s task, and after the world was introduced to Boston’s secret weapon back in an April game against the Heat, everyone around the league wanted to see how Bradley would fare against the rejuvenated Wade. But he’s not on the court after undergoing shoulder surgery. Allen is what the C's have, so he plays on.
“You always talk, if it was the playoffs would you play?” Allen asked rhetorically. “It’s the playoffs.”
It’s not fair to make Allen the symbol of these old and aging Celtics. He’s a Hall of Fame player, and more than that, he’s a pro’s pro. After missing those free throws in the first half, Allen was the first player out of the locker room. He went to the line, where he got up more shots. That’s his nature, always searching, trying to find whatever’s wrong and fix it.
“It’s hard to say,” Allen said when asked if his injury was affecting his free throw shooting. “I know I don’t have good timing right now. I know the shot feels fine. If it’s short, I know I do have less lift on it. It’s just timing. It’s just rhythm. It’s just getting shots up. I just take it day by day and try to figure what I’m dealing with.”
His team is a day-by-day proposition as well, if not minute-by-minute. For a dozen or so they were the best team in the world, and for the other 36 they were something far less. That’s not enough to beat the Wizards most nights and it certainly wasn’t enough to beat Miami in the Eastern Conference finals as they dropped Game 1, 93-79.
That’s not the worst-case scenario for the Celtics. The worst case would be if they had played well and still didn’t have enough to beat LeBron James, Wade and the rest of the Heat. They struggled to score, which is nothing new, but they also didn’t defend very well. Miami shot 50 percent and that included 20 missed 3-pointers. Take those out of the equation and the Heat made 31-of-47 shots inside the arc and Wade and James combined to score 11 baskets right at the rim.
“They got more layups, man,” Kevin Garnett said. “We can’t beat this team by giving them layups.”
Asked if it was because of system breakdowns or just one-on-one excellence, Garnett shot back, “It doesn't even matter. Whether it was breakdowns, whether we weren't in our spots, or the scheme didn't work, or whatever it was, we have to put in more of a fight, and more of an effort.”
James and Wade shot 60 percent and scored 54 points. They are going to get theirs, but Miami also got eight quick points from Mike Miller and a 10-point, 10-rebound effort from Shane Battier. When the Heat weren’t making shots, they were getting offensive rebounds, 13 of them against only 23 defensive boards.
“Mike Miller’s eight points in the first half really hurt us,” Doc Rivers said. “Those are the baskets we have to take away. You’re not going to take everything away from them. They have two sensational players, but we gave them both tonight. We let Wade, we let LeBron play in extreme comfort and we gave the other guys what they wanted as well.”
And now, a word about the officiating. The Celtics were called for five technicals, including one for delay of game and one for an illegal defense. Allen got one for reacting to a call. Rajon Rondo got one after some pointed words for official Ed Malloy. Rivers got another one from Malloy that he called, “The worst I’ve ever had,” and added, “Everybody has to keep their composure, not just the players and the coaches.”
The technicals will get most of the attention, but it was the lack of calls on the offensive end when the Celtics did try to attack the basket, especially in the third quarter, that helped take them out of their rhythm.
“Well, you can't think that way when you play,” Rondo said. “You've just got to try to stay aggressive. Eventually we may get a ... y’all are going to get me fined.”
Still, the refs didn’t shoot 40 percent and they didn’t miss 10-of-21 free throws. That’s on the Celtics, and while the defense may be fixable, the offensive woes remain their biggest issue.
Outside of Garnett who was once again fantastic with 23 points and 10 rebounds -- his seventh 20 and 10 game in 14 postseason appearances -- the Celtics couldn’t find anything that worked. Paul Pierce shot 5-for-18 and didn’t get to the free throw line. Brandon Bass was 4-for-11 and Rondo never got into a rhythm outside of the second quarter, shooting 8-for-20 with just seven assists.
In another example of how numbers rarely tell Rondo’s story, a 16-9-7 line from your point guard should be cause for celebration, not cause for concern.
“He’s got to be in attack,” Rivers said. “The second quarter he was attacking. I thought he was reading a lot instead of playing on his instincts. Sometimes his IQ hurts him. He’s trying to read the defense. You can’t read and play a speed at the same time. We have to give him more room and guys have to hit shots. They were helping off of [Mickael] Pietrus. They were helping off of Ray. If you don’t make them pay for it then it makes it easier to guard Rondo.”
The Heat’s main defensive goal in this series is stopping Rondo. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was threatening to run out of adjectives before Game 1 even tipped saying Rondo’s “greatness is his unpredictability,” and referring to him as, “a basketball maestro.”
Rondo’s moments were rare and his opportunities to create were limited. Part of that was the lack of defensive stops. Part of it was their defense, led by Wade and including help from anyone whose job it is to protect the paint.
Of all the ifs heading into this game, the Celtics answered only one affirmatively: Garnett had a huge night. Rondo wasn’t at his best, Wade and James played free and easy, the role players were outplayed, the Heat “crushed,” them in the 50-50 game to use Rivers’ word. So, they lost. Badly.
“It’s one game,” Allen said. “We have to get better. It’s never going to be easy and you never think that we lost the series. We just lost one game.”
If we know anything about the Celtics it’s that they are resilient and they’ve been here before.
“This is not our best basketball,” Garnett said. “So I believe we have better basketball in us, and in order for us to stay alive, we've got to play better, and we will.”