Just thirteen seconds into Game One of the NBA Finals, Rajon Rondo took a pass from Paul Pierce under the hoop for an easy layup. The Celtics were off to a good start, and led 2-0.
It went downhill from there. And fast.
Derek Fisher knocked down a jumper to tie the score and Boston would never regain the lead, as the Lakers coasted to a 102-90 victory.
Boston did tie the score at 18 after a quick 5-0 run. But L.A. would pull away from there, and with less than a minute to go in the first half, the Lakers had their first double-digit advantage, 48-37.
The Celtics never got within eight points the rest of the way, and trailed by as many as 20 points. The Lakers put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Celtics 34-23. Kobe Bryant had 14 of his game-high 30 points in the third.
In addition to Bryant, Pau Gasol powered the Laker attack with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Most impressive from Gasol were his 8 offensive rebounds, or one more than total combined rebounds between Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
The game for Boston was reminiscent of the regular season woes the Celtics displayed. They were dominated on the glass, out-rebounded 42-31. At one point, L.A. enjoyed a 34-17 rebounding advantage.
The Lakers crashed the boards on every miss and it appeared as if Boston was completely unable of grabbing simple rebounds.
The Celtics also had 13 turnovers, which is not a terribly high number, but the turnovers were mostly the product of careless plays. There was Rasheed Wallace getting a rebound and basically just throwing the ball out of bounds in a feeble attempt to give the ball to Nate Robinson.
There was also Kevin Garnett trying to throw an outlet pass to Ray Allen at mid-court, but air-mailing it well over Allen’s head into the stands. Here is some advice for Garnett – when you get a rebounds, give it to #9. He is pretty good.
The play of Garnett has to worry Celtics fans. He looked slow and old, a replica of the Garnett that was a non-factor on the boards and on defense too many nights during the regular season. He did have 16 points on 7-16 shooting, but just four rebounds.
For a perfect snapshot of just how bad things went for the Celtics and Garnett, look to the fourth quarter. Hanging around, Boston was down 13 points with under six minutes to play. Not quite anything to make the Lakers nervous, but definitely close enough for possibly a late charge.
Rondo found Garnett wide open under the hoop for an easy dunk. K.G. doesn’t dunk it, however. He looses control of the ball on his way up and then gets blocked by the underside of the rim – an embarrassing outcome for someone in youth league, let alone the 6’11 Garnett.
It wasn’t over. Because he was so wide open, he easily collected his own rebound. Then in Charles Smith-ian fashion, he missed a second shot at point blank range.
The Lakers then raced up court with Lamar Odom making a jumper to officially put an end to any thought of a Celtics let-game comeback.
Garnett was far from the only one who struggled for Boston.
Ray Allen, plagued by foul trouble all night, shot just 3-8 and did not knock down any three pointers. He made 22 three pointers in the Finals back in 2008.
Paul Pierce came out aggressive early, with nine first quarter points. He then went silent for the second and third quarters while the Lakers were taking complete control, making just one field over that span. He did score 13 in the fourth quarter, but by then, it was too little, too late.
Similar to Pierce, Rondo did have his moments (13 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds), but had long stretches where he was a non-factor.
The questions going forward are simple: was this just a bad game from Boston, similar to ones we saw in Game Five against Orlando and Game Three against Cleveland? Or, did the Lakers easily win Game One, a game where Bryant scored just four fourth quarter points yet Boston not got within 11, because L.A. is simply that much of a better team?
I honestly have no idea. Certainly the Celtics can’t play any worse. But at the same time, the Lakers were never threatened in this game, so they have plenty of room for error.
The fate of the series going forward will fall on the Big Three. Did Garnett just have a bad night that he will put behind him, or is his gas tank on empty? Will Ray Allen find his stroke the rest of the way or will guarding Bryant keep Allen in foul trouble? And if that is the case, the Celtics should strongly consider putting Pierce on Bryant.
Pierce showed he can score on Ron Artest, a concern entering the series. But he also has to realize that he can’t wait until the fourth quarter to take over the Boston offense.
The Lakers outhustled the Celtics in Game One, were better defensively, and had an answer any time Boston made any sort of short-lived run. Bryant and Gasol shot a combined 18-36 for 53 points. And Phil Jackson has never lost a playoff series when winning Game One.
Boston will have to overcome all of that to not only win Game Two, but to have any chance at winning the series. It won’t be easy, but the postseason has proven that we can never count these Celtics out. Just know that if things do not get better very quickly, the Lakers may be one hurdle that Boston will not be able to get over.