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A Must-Win? Game 2 Preview

Game 2 doesn’t feel like a must-win, but is it? During the first round, John Hollinger wrote that teams that go up 2-0 are 192-12 in playoff series, and only three of those come-from-behind winners dropped the first two at home.

This Celtic team has shown admirable resiliency, but it is hard to imagine coming back to win this series if they lose tonight.

The good news coming out of Game 1: the defense played pretty well, yielding 95 points on 95 possessions. That rate would lead the NBA over the course of the season. The bad news: 90 points on 95 possessions for Boston, a truly awful number. The Celtics outlasted the Bulls primarily because their offense played at the same highly efficient level it did in the regular season; their defensive performance against Chicago dropped off a bit. My biggest worry before this series was the possibility that the Celtics could not maintain their offensive efficiency against arguably the league’s best defensive team–at least not enough to win four times in seven tries.

So how can this team score more points? Step one is to cut down on turnovers. In the first round, the C’s actually turned the ball over less frequently, per possession, than any other team in the playoffs. What had been the team’s most glaring weakness actually became a strength.

Fourteen turnovers against Orlando–a miscue on nearly 15 percent of the game’s possessions–is too many. Orlando’s defense forced turnovers on just 12.3 percent of possessions this season–the 26th-lowest rate in the NBA. Their defensive philosophy is to avoid gambling, stay in front of shooters and contest shots. If you give them turnovers, it’s an extra bonus that makes them that much more difficult to beat.

Rajon Rondo probably won’t turn the ball over seven times again. His turnovers–especially the three game-killing cough-ups late in the fourth quarter–were unforced, the product of the sort of recklessness that can possess a point guard when his team is down by 28 points and he’s the only functioning offensive weapon.

Step Two is to shoot better and get better shots (ground-breaking analysis, I know). If Pierce and Ray Allen shoot 9-of-30, the Celtics are probably going to lose. Pierce has played well offensively against Hedo Turkoglu since Hedo moved east, and there are going to be a couple of games when those mid-range shots are falling.

Allen could not shake J.J. Redick or Mikeal Pietrus. In a bizarre way, I actually enjoyed Redick’s performance on defense in Game 1. As David Thorpe pointed out, the kid was working really hard. Can he do it again? Can he do it six more times? Expect the C’s (and Allen) to throw some new twists his way in this game–more creative routes for Ray to run (I love the little U-turn he does occasionally, when he darts down into the paint, turns and runs right back around a screen and behind the three-point line) and screeners in some unexpected places.

(Side note: Orlando’s defense is actually only two points worse per 100 possessions with Redick on the floor. Say what you want about SVG–and there’s plenty to say–but this team, this season, has bought in completely).

It would help if Rondo could get on one of his good jump-shooting streaks, because it’s obvious Rafer Alston is going to leave Rajon open from 15 feet and out.

On the other end, I’m not sure what the Celtics can do other than play Scalabrine more–and I’m not sure that’s as great a solution as a lot of people seem to think. He can probably do a better job on Rashard Lewis than Big Baby, but the C’s lose a lot of rebounding and offensive creativity with Davis on the bench.

The Celtics have defended Orlando fairly well this season, holding the Magic to 40 percent shooting overall and 31.5 percent from deep in the regular season–and they approached those numbers in Game 1. The Celtics did not lose Game One on defense.

Other things to monitor, after the jump.

• The corner three. J.E. Skeets kept tweeting the other night that Orlando is going to have the open corner three all series long. I’m not sure how Boston counters this, or if they should try. Most of the open corner threes came when Orlando ran a high screen/roll, using Howard as the screener. While Perk does his whole help-and-recover thing, the Celtic player guarding the wing man on whatever side of the lane Howard rolls down has to slide over and help, leaving someone open in the corner. If Orlando makes those consistently, the C’s are in trouble.

Then again, you could probably say that about any team playing any other team.

• Will the Magic ever go big? Marcin Gortat played just five minutes in Game 1, and ex-Celtic Tony Battie (who remembers his huge missed FT against New Jersey in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals?) got the DNP-CD. Coach VG didn’t play Gortat and Howard together much this season, but it would be interesting to see how that line-up would work against an under-sized Celtic team.

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