It was a familiar sight in Cleveland in the early going Tuesday night. The Cavs had run out to an 11 point lead and the Quicken Loans Arena was rocking as Doc Rivers called timeout to settle the troops, three minutes into the action. The Celtics hadn’t even given The Cavs a good game last year in Ohio and had last won at the Q when Jiri Welsch, Mark Blount and Raef LaFrentz composed the team’s front line back in 2004. It’s hard to imagine that unit winning a game anywhere in the NBA, much less Cleveland, but that’s a conversation for another day. For the time being, it was the present day C’s that had dug themselves a hole an imposing deficit during the opener of their 2009 campaign as it appeared their 10 game losing streak in Ohio was positioned to continue.
Despite this adversity though, the Celtics remained calm through the Cavs’ intital run. There was no panic, no sloppy play, only poise from the veteran Celtics despite the deficit. Like a heavyweight fighter, they withstood the opening barrage of punches from the amped up opponent. Teetering close to a knockout, the C’s held their ground and slowly began chipping away at the new look Cavs, knowing there were many more rounds to go in this prize fight.
Transition offense and energy from the newest members of the Celtics off the bench cut a 14 point deficit in half by the end of the 1st quarter. By the middle of the 2nd quarter, the C’s weren’t just holding their ground, they were countering with authority against Cleveland, taking advantage of their edge in talent off the bench.
Marquis Daniels, debuting what my former college roommate called the ugliest hairstyle he has ever seen, made strong moves to the hoops in his first game in green. Rasheed Wallace showed his ability to spread the floor, knocking down a number of open looks. All of this led to a 6 point lead for the C’s heading into the break.
The C’s kept their foot on the gas in the 3rd, riding hot shooting to build a double digit leads against a stunned opponent and crowd after capping off a 17-2 run midway through the 3rd. The Cavs were down, but unsurprisingly not out of this one, as they mounted a comeback in the final frame behind the best player in Eastern Conference, moving within striking distance several times in the 4th quarter.
The difference between these two teams to me right now is quite simple really. It’s trust. Through the 4th quarter….and the majority of the game for that matter, the Celtics showed trust in each other on the floor. When the C’s are playing well, they are playing unselfishly. They also trust their game plan and know where they are supposed to be on the floor. Thanks to this faith in one another, no one hesitates to make the dish to any player on the floor in any spot. This formula ends up providing the C’s high percentage shots.
Paul Pierce ending up carrying the load down the stretch by getting hot, but almost every on the floor had a good look in the closing minutes. Perk, Rasheed, Ray, KG, almost everyone the floor took an above average look. Some went down, others didn’t, but the vast majority, were shots Doc Rivers would have been happy with. They were shots that everyone on the team trusted their teammates to make.
From Cleveland’s perspective, after the 1st quarter there was very little of that trust in play. Shaq lost his rhythm after starting 3/3 from the field, finishing 2/8 from there on out. Anthony Parker and Mo Williams had showed no confidence in their stroke as the game progressed. The shorthanded bench which sorely missed Delonte West gave the team nothing, instead squandering the early lead.
There was not a lot of confidence on that team besides Lebron down the stretch. And it showed, as the forward attempted to put his team on his back in scoring 14 of the team’s 24 points in the final period. His final line of 38 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists was impressive, but his understandable lack of trust in his teammates led to missed opportunities down the stretch as they couldn’t close the gap by more than 4 in the closing minutes.
The C’s clogged up the lane, double and triple teaming number 23, forcing him into tough shots. Dishing in the final frame led to missed shots and turnovers for the Cavs, so it’s hard to fault the guy trying to do it all by himself. One man teams don’t beat these Celtics and that was the case last night.
Ray played 41 minutes, Paul played 37. Concerned Celtics fans may all ready be complaining about these numbers, but for this one night they should bite their tongues. The team was shorthanded tonight without Brian Scalabrine and Doc was clearly only willing to go 9 deep tonight, keeping Lester Hudson and JR Giddens away from the fire that is Quicken Loans Arena.
In order to win in Ohio, these are the minutes those guys are going to play. They are as rested as they will ever be this season, this being the opener. If.
Very encouraged to see Perk shooting his mini jumper so comfortably throughout this contest. He stayed away from trying to post up the massive Shaq and adapted his play to the overall game plan of trying to pull the big men out of the lane. He stuck to the his spots on the baseline and though he only made a couple, the stroke overall looked good. Perhaps, more importantly he wasn’t hesitant.
This development, which has progressed nicely since he started shooting those jumpers at the end of last year, is a tremendous added dimension to his game that makes this team much more dangerous offensively with him on the floor. He even gave his defender a head fake on the perimeter, after squaring up for another jumper and drove by them for an easy layup. When’s the last time a defender gave Perk’s shot that kind of respect? My guess is never.
In a bit of a role reversal, it was KG tonight who was showing off his post moves more than his jumper, another thing to add to the positives tonight. Made some tough shots and while he may not get all the way back, this team may only need 15 and 8 from him nightly to get by.
As I mentioned earlier, Quisy looked tremendous tonight, looks to be a great fit in providing the team a slasher and giving Paul/Ray some rest in defending the opposition’s ace swingman. He did an admirable job on Lebron when they were matched up and made a couple nice cuts to the hoop. Jump shot is still as ugly as TA’s though.
Rondo, as Zach mentioned in his postgame notes looked terrific out there as well. He was committed to getting out there and running and provided countless easy transition opportunities for Paul, Ray and company. His aggressiveness in the 1st quarter also got him a couple key buckets that helped the team dig out of their 13-2 hole.
Defensively he shut down Mo Williams as anticipated and was ruthless on the glass at both ends of the floor. Bill Duffy no doubt must of enjoyed the extra ammo for his ongoing negotiations for an extension for the point guard.
It looks like it’s going to be swishes or airballs for Rasheed this year with very little in between. Luckily, tonight it was more of the latter than the former. He does provide the team with a whole new element offensively in crunch time and tonight, Paul Pierce reaped the benefits.
The Truth deserves some props for his classic mid range jumper clinic down the stretch. Vintage Pierce.
The turnovers or lack there of tonight were a huge help for the C’s. Only 16, a very respectable number against a tough defensive team like the Cavs.
Shelden Williams…..not a bad debut. Needs to work on his rotations and take some lessons from Leon on planting his feet….but he didn’t bog the team down while he was out there. Doc will happily take 10-15 minutes of that every game.
Is it bad I miss Leon all ready?
The pick and pop worked to perfection all night long. Shaq and Varejao had no chance against it all night long, especially down the stretch. The C’s will be running this to death this year. And the Cavs will see it run to death by their opponents if they can’t find more mobile big men to play D.
Charlotte tonight. Look for the starters’ minutes to go down, and Hudson and/or Giddens to see a little action with the bench against an inferior opponent.