The Boston Celtics came up short Monday against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. The game highlighted the clear contrast in styles between the older, more experienced Celtics and the younger, more athletic Miami Heat. The final score of 93-79 does not begin to explain the level of variance between both teams, as the Heat were able to score utilizing speed, perimeter shooting and superior athleticism; while Boston looked to grind the game down to a possession-by-possession affair. In the end, it was the Heat's ability to hit timely perimeter shots and undeterred access to the rim that led to the victory.
The game started out well for Miami, with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James gaining relatively easy access to the basket with an assortment of short jumpers and back-door lob passes while Boston looked much the part of a team coming off a seven game series. With the exception of Kevin Garnett, the remaining Celtics did not show much spark at the game's onset. After falling behind by 10 after one quarter, Boston appeared to hit their stride by dominating the second frame. Unfortunately for the Celtics and their fans, the second quarter output represented nearly half of the team's points for the entire contest.
Before the start of the series, I had written an article outlining ways which the Celtics could win the series. With the exception of Kevin Garnett's solid performance (23 points, 10 rebounds), the Celtics were unable to capitalize on any of the other keys to victory. Rajon Rondo was unable to establish himself as a multi-faceted offensive player; while Paul Pierce and Ray Allen did not perform to a level necessary to secure a victory. While Rondo provided a solid 16 points and nine rebounds, his seven assists were fewer than was needed to facilitate an efficient offense. Boston relied too heavily on isolation-based scoring as opposed to crisp ball movement; which limited the number of clean shot opportunities. For the game Boston registered 19 assists on 32 baskets. The 59.3% ratio is a full seven percentage points below their regular season average (66.5%). Celtics will need more ball movement to open up better looks both on the interior as well as the perimeter.
The fact that Boston is an older team and was playing on one day of rest has been well documented; but for this team to have any chance of winning the series, they must be able to win in Game 2 and secure home court advantage. For this to happen, each member of the "Core Four" will have to play at a more optimal level. The likelihood that Ray Allen will revert to his early season form is highly improbable due to bone spurs in his ankle. His inability to connect not only from the perimeter but surprisingly from the foul line as well is a strong indication of the type of discomfort he feels on a nightly basis. To his credit, Allen continues to give the team his all, but with his mobility limited he needs better screens set by the remaining players on the floor to free up his looks.
The match-up between Paul Pierce and LeBron James was not as close as Boston fans need; as James would outscore his Celtics' counterpart 32 to 12. Despite being hobbled somewhat by a strained MCL, Pierce he claims to be fine and has made the injury a non-issue this far in the playoffs. With that said, "The Truth" will need to answer the bell in Game 2 and force LeBron James to guard him closely as opposed to floating defensively.
To change the series outcome, the Celtics must fine greater offensive efficiency, slow the pace of play, and limit Miami's fast break scoring chances. Despite turning the ball over just eight times, the Heat were able to capitalize on long rebounds from many missed perimeter shots to start their fast break. The Celtics shot an anemic 11 for 42 ((26.1%) in the game's pivotal first and third quarters; when the Heat were able to extend to double digit leads.
In addition to establishing a more comfortable pace offensively, a more physical style of play would be desirable; but the Celtics lack a physical player who can make Miami think twice about driving to the basket. Miami can not be afforded open lanes to drive along with wide lanes to drive. To beat the physically superior duo of Lames and Wade, the Celtics will need to make each pay for their scoring chances, utilizing physical defense and as many fouls as they can afford to earn their points on the line. If the bench is unable to help the team efford by scoring, then use of aggressive defense will be required to slow the Heat attack.
A win on Wednesday will go a long way in extending this series and plant a seed of doubt in the minds of Heat players and coaches whether this team can truly beat the Celtics in a series where all four of the "Core Four" are on the floor. Remember that last season's match-up with Miami was dramatically impacted by the elbow injury sustained to Rondo, which took the most dominant Celtics player off of the floor and shortened what could have been a long series and potential upset.
As the fate of the "Big Three" remains uncertain as the summer approaches, Celtics fans should remain hopeful that this squad has one last bit of fight left in them; for as poorly as the team played on Monday, there is much better basketball left in them. It is now a matter of whether the Celtics players themselves can conjure up that championship pride and beat the Heat.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston's 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
Yahoo! Sports Box Score: Boston Celtics 79 @ Miami Heat 93
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