While the 92-88 Celtics win in Game One over the Orlando Magic wound up being much closer down the stretch than Boston fans would have wanted, considering the C’s built a 20-point cushion in the third quarter, the game gave head coach Doc Rivers plenty to talk about afterwards.
Rivers can tell his team about the great defensive first half where they held Orlando to just 32 points. He can also talk about a 33-point third quarter that included a 22-5 run.
That was the good.
The bad was the fourth quarter when the Celtics’ offense was bogged down, scoring just 18 points and making only five field goals, with the defense giving up 30 points.
Ray Allen knocked down a three-pointer with 5:30 left to play to put Boston ahead 88-75. The Celtics would not manage one more made field goal for the rest of the way and watched as Orlando climbed within three, 88-85, with 26 seconds remaining.
Fortunately, the Celtics would hold on as both Paul Pierce and Allen would hit a pair of free throws. The win, however, was the definition of “holding on”.
If Boston had been able to easily win, it would have provided much needed rest to a team that looked tired down the stretch, and even looked tired afterwards as the players barely slapped hands with each other and walked slowly off the court.
But, the good and the bad gives Rivers the opportunity to use the game to really teach the team what can happen in this series.
The Celtics used a smothering defense and moved the ball on offense through the first three quarters. Rivers can point to that to show his team what can happen when they rely on what they have been taught and rely on each other.
In the fourth quarter, the team tried to run the clock out, waited until far too deep in the shot clock before running their offense, and had to settle for too many rushed shots.
Game One was one of those games where Orlando say that they played poorly for three quarters, got almost nothing from Rashard Lewis (6 points, zero in fourth quarter) and Matt Barnes (two points), and only 13 points from Dwight Howard, and managed to lose by only four points.
Barnes looked to be inhibited by a back problem, but a bright spot for Orlando had to be the play of J.J. Redick. He scored nine points and also did a good job slowing down Ray Allen in the fourth quarter.
For Boston, it can also look at the game and feel as if they won a game on the road against a team that had not lost in the postseason yet there is still room for improvement.
Allen and Pierce combined for 47 points on 14-24 shooting. The rest of the Celtic starters, though, combined for just 20 points on 10-30 shooting. Included in that was a 4-14 for only eight points from Kevin Garnett.
A name that has not been mentioned so far is Rajon Rondo who was the star for Boston in the first two rounds. The length of Orlando, in particular Dwight Howard’s ability to guard the rim, clearly impacted Rondo’s impact offensively. He will need to adjust his game if Boston wants to win the series.
If any type of player has caused Rondo problems this year, it has been the stronger point guards. Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson fits that bill and outplayed Rondo in Game One with 20 points and nine rebounds.
Also, while Pierce did have 22 points, he took only eight shots. He had seven points quickly in the first quarter and 13 in the fourth quarter, but needed to be more aggressive in the fourth quarter.
A key going forward for Boston will be the play of bench players Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace.
Howard wants to help on all Boston drives. The Celtics big men have to make him pay, either by knocking down jump shots, or finishing at the rim on dishes from driving Boston players.
I left out Kendrick Perkins because Perk has looked slow offensively all postseason, and really the entire second half of the season. Whether it is his knees or something else, Perkins’ inability to finish quickly plays right into Howard’s hands.
Another battle to look for as the series progresses is the Pierce-Vince Carter matchup.
I do not know how Carter views it, but I am positive that Pierce views Carter as a personal rival.
Pierce slipped to the 10th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft and spent the entire summer calling out the names of those picked ahead of him as motivation. One of those names was Carter.
Carter would win the Rookie of the Year, but Pierce showed from day one that there was marginal difference statistically between the two. Carter averaged 18 points and 5.7 rebounds as a rookie to 16.5 and 6.4 for Pierce.
And since then, their numbers would remain close—Carter with a career 22.9 scoring average to Pierce’s 22.5.
If there is a tangible difference, it has come in the playoffs. Carter has averaged more points in the postseason, 24.4 to 21.5 for Pierce, but Pierce has played in 38 more playoff games than Carter and has a ring and Finals MVP to his credit.
Pierce is making his third trip to the Eastern Conference Finals to just the first for Carter. This Orlando team, though, presents his best shot at reaching the Finals for the first time.
Neither one may say so publicly, but whoever gets the better of the personal matchup, will likely also be the one moving on to the Finals.