6/6/08

Complete Game 1 rundown by guest writer Greg J

On the first night of a series celebrated for its roots in NBA history, it seems only appropriate that it was decided by the kind of romantic storyline that elder Celtics fans have so often described to me. Injured or not, Pierce's panic-inducing exit on a wheelchair, followed by his triumphant emergence from the tunnel and subsequent pair of threes to bring the Celtics back was an amazing way to begin this much-anticipated series. The Celtics importantly preserved home-court advantage and set the stage for Game 2 on Sunday.

Some important points:

-Unbeknownst to everybody, Ray Allen looks like he really knows how to cover Kobe Bryant. For those familiar with Ray Ray's less than impeccable defensive reputation, this is seems flat-out unbelievable. However, his ability to tempt Kobe with the shot results in less possessions where Kobe's going towards the basket and creating for others, and a lot more with Kobe taking some sort of off-balanced mid-range jumper. Having defensive-savvy veterans like PJ Brown and Posey in help defense certainly doesn't hurt either. Kobe, claiming to have missed a lot of "bunnies", apparently now considers "bunnies" to be contested fade-aways. For a player heralded as unstoppable, you can't do a much better job than the Celtics did last night. We can chalk it up to a bad shooting night all we want, but anyone who's been watching the Lakers at all is well aware that Kobe simply wasn't getting the looks he was getting in the other series. We'll see how Kobe responds in Game Two.

-If the Lakers want to win, Pau Gasol needs to match-up better with KG. While his stat-line was decent, he looked hopeless in trying to guard Garnett and really failed to get anything going in the post. Had Garnett not forgotten how to shoot in the 4th quarter (0-9 over a stretch), this problem only would have been amplified. It became brutally apparent last night that Gasol isn't nearly physical enough to disrupt Garnett's mid-range game. When KG is that comfortable facing the basket, he's borderline unstoppable. Look for this to be a recurring theme throughout the series. If the Celtics come out on top, this is going to by a big reason why.

-Despite lurking in the shadows behind KG's monstrous game and Paul Pierce's dramatics, Rajon Rondo was absolutely huge in Game 1. Celtics fans know that throughout the playoffs, Rondo has been a man of two faces. On one side, the second year player has shown flashes of realized potential. An explosive, slashing point guard, he has demonstrated the ability to tear apart a defense more honed in on stopping the big 3. In doing so, he is able to find his shot and create shots for teammates. In a pivotal game 5 against the Cavs, Rondo threw up 20 and dished 13, and at times seemed to have complete control of the game. When the home crowd can generate enough momentum to keep his confidence in full swing, Rajon Rondo has shown that he is a very good basketball player. However, on the other side of things, the second year point guard has often played, well, like a second year point guard. Plagued by inconsistency, Rondo’s story has been as much about wavering confidence as it has been about defiant success. On the road specifically, Rondo has shown a tendency to crawl into his own shell rather than looking to create. As the point guard, falling into these mid-game comas has a distressingly stagnating, even halting effect on the Celtics' offensive flow, as his lack of play-making detracts from everyone's productivity.
Last night, we saw his better half. Simply put, when Rondo is firing, the Celtics are firing, and Game 1 testified loudly to this. In Game 1, Rajon dropped 15 and shelled out 7. More importantly, he was aggressive and maintained a solid offensive flow. Much like the team itself, Rondo's start to the series was promising, yet we should remain wary of the looming inconsistency that has plagued him throughout the playoffs.

-In the words of the ever-quotable Shaquille O'Neal, Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. He's been trapped in basketball purgatory for so long, and I am so happy that he's been given the opportunity to show how special of a player he is on the national stage. After being jobbed out of a four point play in the Detroit series in possibly the more inexplicable calls ever made, his karmic retribution in the 3rd quarter on a similar shot that banked in seemed fitting. He single-handedly swung the game in the Celtics favor on
back-to-back threes, and was the heart and soul of the team throughout the game. Three more like that and he'll have some Finals MVP hardware to add to his collection. His knee has quickly become the biggest wild card in the series. If he's not at full health, it will be pretty smooth sailing for the Lakers from here on out, despite their Game 1 loss. If he can play effectively, he’s the best answer to Kobe the Lakers have encountered.

(Side note: The entire "faking" accusation is a contrived, asinine attempt at the kind of shock journalism that keeps Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith employed. Plashke should have his head on a stake for that. Pierce thought he heard a pop, understandably panicked, realized he over-reacted, then went out and
played. Also, straining a tendon in the knee, regardless of how seriously, is going to be pretty painful when it first happens. Can't we leave it at that? Just drop it and move on.)

-The comically over-hyped Lakers bench showed that it was just that last night. In an area considered one of the Lakers' biggest advantages, the Battle of the Benches went to the Celtics. This was somewhat unsurprising, as the kind of solid veteran play seen in Cassell (eh..maybe not Sam), Posey, and Brown will
often overcome the youthful energy seen in Vujacic, Farmar, and Turiaf, especially in the Finals.

-Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. More than anything else, this is probably why the Celtics won. In the regular season, team rebounding for the two squads was essentially equal, with the Lakers ranked 10th in the league and the Celtics 11th. So for now, we'll assume this was just a brief apparition. However, should this problem persist for the Lakers, the disparity in rebounding alone could swing things in the Celtics favor.

Overall, the Celtics uncovered many of the Lakers' flaws that the media had done such an extensive job of ignoring going into the series. This is not going to be the Laker-dominated Kobefest it was originally touted as, which was a ridiculous idea anyways. That said, the Celtics played really well last
night and Kobe played really poorly, and it’s not going to be like that all series. This is going to be an absolute grind for both sides. While, after last night, we have a far better understanding of the dynamics that will shape this series, the series is still very much up in the air. I still see this going 7, but a Celtics win on Sunday could start to nudge my prediction forward.

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