Tuesday, April 20, 2010
TD Garden, 8 p.m.
RADIO: WEEI 850 AM
One year ago, the Boston Celtics were figuring out how to maneuver through the First Round of the Playoffs without Kevin Garnett in the lineup. At 8 p.m. tonight in Game 2 against the Heat, they'll have to figure that out again, albeit this time it's only for one game.
Garnett, who caught Quentin Richardson with an elbow during a skirmish between the two teams in the final minute of Game 1, will be serving his league-mandated one-game suspension tonight. Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace will be looked upon to deliver during his absence, and they'll certainly need to step up their game in order for the Celtics to jump ahead 2-0 in the series.
Davis (eight points, eight rebounds) and Wallace (four points, one rebound) combined for only 12 points and nine rebounds in Game 1, but Davis was one of the most integral pieces of Boston's win. His endless energy and hustle helped the C's excel at both ends of the floor. Davis will need to deliver that intensity again tonight for a longer duration, and Wallace will need to step up his game in extended minutes, too. Neither of those players were on the floor for more than 24 minutes in Game 1.
Doc Rivers will gladly accept some offensive production from that duo, but what he really needs out of them is a strong performance on the defensive end. Michael Beasley, who is Miami's second-leading scorer and most athletic big man, was limited to only six points and eight rebounds against Garnett in Game 1, and that played a huge role in the Heat scoring only 76 points.
Miami is relying on Beasley to be Dwyane Wade's sidekick during the playoffs, and if he doesn't come through, its chances of winning this series are very slim. Wallace and Davis' goal tonight will be to hold Beasley in check offensively and fluster him the way Garnett did in Game 1, when he forced the second-year forward into five turnovers.
While limiting Beasley to marginal numbers, Boston also did a great job of keeping Wade around his season averages in Game 1. Tonight may be a different story, though, because if none of Wade's teammates step into that secondary scoring role he could try to take over the game by himself.
Prior to Tony Allen's airtight defense on Wade over the final 18 minutes of the game, Wade got nearly anything he wanted offensively. As numerous Celtics have noted since they knew they'd be facing off against Miami's playmaker in this series, he wouldn't be D-Wade if he was easy to stop.
He's certainly not easy to stop -- he's not even easy to contain. Wade approached triple-double numbers in Game 1 while hitting better than 60 percent of his shots, and the media made it seem as if he was completely shut down by Boston. He was down the stretch (credit Allen and his big men's communication), but he was still productive overall. Tonight could be a night where he puts the team on his shoulders in an attempt to send the Heat back to Miami with a 1-1 split in Boston.
The Celtics, meanwhile, want nothing to do with a split. Boston will be satisfied with nothing less than a 2-0 lead heading down to South Beach, and to do so they'll need some players to step up their game. Paul Pierce finished with a team-high 16 points in Game 1 and heated up in the second half when he turned up the aggression. Continuing that mindset tonight will be a key for the C's, because it will open things up for the rest of Boston's players, particularly Ray Allen.
Allen tied with Kendrick Perkins for the lowest scoring output from any of the Celtics starters, as he accounted for only eight points on 2-of-9 shooting. He did shoot 4-of-4 from the free throw line, but his 2-of-9 shooting from the field was far from what was expected. If he struggles offensively again in Game 2, it could lead to a tied series that the Celtics are looking to avoid.
Boston was able to hold down the fort without KG in the lineup for 14 games of last year's postseason; we'll see tonight if the C's can step up their game and do it again for one important game of this season's playoffs, too.
Pierce will be the tone-setter
You've heard about "waking the sleeping giant," right? Well, we might see that notion come true tonight.
The Celtics had been sleeping in a 27-27 rut over the final 54 games of the regular season, and Richardson's antics in Game 1 may be the spark that wakes them up. Pierce, in particular, may be the Celtic whom Richardson really woke up.
Since Saturday's Game 1, all Pierce has said is that he will respond to Richardson's talk with his play. That usually means that the captain is going to be in attack mode all night, and that will certainly set the tone for the C's in Game 2. No star player likes to be disrespected the way Pierce was, and it's not out of the question for Pierce to make it a personal matter when the ball goes up tonight.
Movement off the ball
The Heat are one of the worst teams in the league with regard to offensive motion off of the ball. That's why they ranked 28th in the league in APG this season with an average of only 18.9 per game.
Their offense becomes particularly stagnant when the ball is in the hands of their big men. Beasley and Jermaine O'Neal are both respectable offensive players, and they can command a double-team when they want to. If their teammates move while working off of the ball, Beasley and O'Neal would surely be able to find some open looks for them.
The problem is, that doesn't happen. The duo of Beasley and O'Neal accounted for only two total assists against Boston in three regular season games (all won by the Celtics), and they combined for only two in Game 1, both of which came from Beasley.
Boston's ability to continue that trend will be important for the remainder of the series. If Miami begins to move off of the ball and then share it, it could pose problems for the C's that they did not expect to see.
Kendrick Perkins' poor performance was greatly overshadowed by Boston's winning of Game 1, but his eight points and three rebounds cannot be ignored. He played more than 24 minutes in a game where Miami shot only 39.7 percent, but he managed to grab only three boards.
That type of performance cannot happen tonight if the C's are going to win this game. Garnett's absence only intensifies that statement.
Perk's scoring isn't an issue -- the C's would gladly take eight points from him -- but the rebounding is. He will be playing alongside two players who combined to average as many rebounds as he did this season, so he will need to step it up on the glass tonight and be Boston's top rebounder.