FOUR MINUTES passed at the start of Game One between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics last night, and the Celtics had just scored their first basket, making the score 5-2. I was wondering how Doc would shuffle the lineups this series, and whether his questionable judgment would come close to costing the Celtics another series.
While many (me included) would still like to see Eddie House play more, I can see some of the logic behind the use of Cassell, primarily because Cassell's ability to post up and get to the basket can help the Celtics in a half court game. I think that Cassell making shots and not being a liability on defense made it easier to justify the decision to have him log almost 20 minutes last night. Cleveland is not a particularly fast or explosive team, so the Celtics match up well against them.
I call it an ugly but good win for the Celtics (any time your two of your three main scoring options are 2-18, its a good win in the playoffs.) However, I wouldn't necessarily be pleased, as the Cavs hovered around 30% shooting (in the 20% range in the first half) for most of the night, and the Celtics were still only up by a few or trailing (in the second half).
The Cavs were one LeBron layup away from tying the game at the end, but he missed it. Its a good win because of the defensive high intensity for almost the entire game, and role players like Cassell and Posey hitting big shots. LeBron had no room to create for himself, and turned it over 10 times. Pierce further put his health on the line by taking two (at my count) charges against LeBron, and probably sacrificed some scoring to focus on containing him. Posey did a great job against him as well, and Perk and KG also rotated to help out and contest his shots. We may not see LeBron play that poorly again, but there is a reason the C's defense has been the best in the league this season.
The ugly playoff win, and how the Celtics were gritty and physical to get it, reminds me of the Patriots style of wearing teams down and superstar-stifling defense in the playoffs. Take away what the other team does best (let LeBron run everything), and let them make the mistakes (poor shooting, TO's). While the Celtics forced a lot of critical mistakes, they also turned the ball over 21 times. But Cleveland couldn't compliment their points off the Celtics' turnovers with an overall consistent offensive performance.
I thought last night that if Pierce and Allen get it going for Game Two, Cavs are in trouble. However, if LeBron starts to score and dominate, it could be a different game since Cleveland's role players will undoubtedly get better looks, and the Perkins-Ilgauskas matchup could be crucial.
Right now, I'm keeping the 22 point and 12 rebound night for Ilgauskas in the back of my mind, because it will be a factor if LeBron gets comfortable and begins to dictate the flow of their offense. The two of them can beat you with the pick and roll, offensive rebounding, and Z's unique skill set of being a big man who can put it on the floor and shoot from the outside. The lane opens up so LeBron can get to the basket where he'll either score, get to the line, or both.
The Celtics still have to improve overall consistency, but in the playoffs good teams to "escape" games like last night with a win, especially since the Celtics were fortunate the poor shooting by Pierce and Allen did not cost them the game. The combination of consistent play by Pierce and Allen, coupled with KG’s continued establishment of a dominant post presence, will make the Celtics very difficult to beat.
Prediction: Celtics keep their momentum, protect home court advantage and win tomorrow night.
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