Posted Apr 18 2010 2:40AM
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics may have finally found that switch they've been looking for.
It took about 30 minutes of game time in Game 1 of their first round series with the Miami Heat on Saturday, but around the seven minute mark of the third quarter, the switch was flipped and the Celtics seemingly put a four-month funk behind them.
At the time, the Heat had scored on eight straight possessions and had a 14-point lead, looking like they were going to steal home-court advantage away, and looking like they were the dominant defensive team in this series. Miami had held the Celtics to just 47 points on 54 possessions to that point, bothering Boston with deflections on the perimeter and shot challenges at the rim.
Then the Celtics showed them what playoff defense is really like. Over a 17 ½ minute period spanning the third and fourth quarters, the Heat had the ball 30 times.
They scored on just five of those 30 possessions.
A 14-point Miami lead turned into a 10-point deficit, and by the time Wade ended a seven-possession drought with a layup with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter, the game had been decided.
This was the Celtics' defense that we remember from two years ago and from the first two months of the season. And it was a stark contrast from the awful defense of the last 10 games, the worst defense they had played in the last three years.
The spark for that suffocating Boston defense did not come from the usual suspects, however. It came from reserve Tony Allen, who barely played in the Celtics' title run of 2008, missed most of his team's 23-5 start to this season, and was out of the rotation just three weeks ago.
Allen took the assignment of slowing down Wade, the most aggressive player in the league. And over that 17 ½ minute stretch, Allen basically took Wade out of the game. Before that point, Wade had scored 20 points on an ultra-efficient 9-for-11 from the field. But from then on, he made just two of his seven shots, finishing with 26.
While the Celtics were able to sweep the season series with Wade averaging 33.7 points against them, their strategy in the second half was clearly to get the ball out of his hands. And it paid off, with Wade's teammates shooting just 33 percent.
Worse for Miami was their 22 turnovers, the most they've committed in two years. Boston's 38 points off those 22 turnovers were the most Miami has allowed since the stat started being tracked in 1995. That 14-point lead they held early in the third could have been bigger if the Heat hadn't played so sloppy.
"We had a chance to really control this game," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Celtics' defensive turnaround wasn't all Allen. Their success comes from five guys working together, and the whole team picked up the intensity after a timeout early in the third. Glen Davis' ability to control the glass in the second half was also key. But there's no doubt, with Rajon Rondo under the weather and Ray Allen shooting poorly, that Boston needed a lift from their third guard.
"He does everything you want a guy off the bench to do," Paul Pierce said of Tony Allen. "You want him to bring energy, just a spark when things aren't going well. I thought he did that on both ends of the court."
Allen's defensive energy carried over to his offense, where he scored 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting. He got transition buckets off of turnovers and also found holes in the back of the Miami defense in the half-court.
No Celtic had more than 16 points. But the numbers on their side of the box score didn't matter much.
"That's the type of team we are," Paul Pierce said. "You look up and we only scored 85 points. We can live with that."
They can live with it, because they have the ability to shut other teams down when they want to. And apparently, they want to again.
Unfortunately, the intensity that helped shut down the Heat got out of hand. And the Celtics may have to live without Kevin Garnett for a game because of it. Their dominant performance over the final 19 minutes was spoiled by an altercation in front of the Heat's bench with 40 seconds to go in the game.
By jawing with Quentin Richardson and then elbowing him in the head, Garnett earned two technical fouls and an ejection. The elbow was similar to one that got Dwight Howard suspended for a playoff game a year ago.
If Garnett is suspended for Game 2, the Celtics will suffer. But if they continue to play defense like they did in the second half of Game 1, they should be just fine when it comes to winning this series.
"This is where we're going to have to hang our hat here in the playoffs if we want to do any kind of damage," Pierce said of his team's defense. "And it was a great start with that tonight."
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