Rusty Celtics Fall Short in Game 1

ATLANTA – The Boston Celtics weren’t who we thought they were in the first quarter of Sunday night’s 83-74 loss to Atlanta.

We know this Boston team to be fierce at the defensive end and efficient with its jump-shooting at the other end. Neither of those characteristics showed face in the opening quarter of Game 1.

Doc Rivers summed up his team’s performance with just a few short words.

“We didn’t play like us,” he said after the game.

Kevin Garnett

KG only hit one of his first nine shots, but settled in to his rhythm in the second half against the Hawks in Game 1.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty

This unknown Celtics team fell behind early to a Hawks squad that came out of the gates with fire on their fingertips. Atlanta scorched the C’s over the first 12 minutes of action to the tune of 31 points on 54.5 percent shooting from the field.

Those types of numbers just don’t fly in Boston. Not with this group.

“We pride ourselves on being a good defensive team,” Rivers said. “We gave up 31 points to start the game on the road. You give the home team confidence – I thought they had confidence and it was hard to shut it off.”

It was certainly hard to shut off in the first quarter. While Boston struggled to put the ball through the hoop, the Hawks made shot after shot after shot. Six of their players scored in the first period, and four of those players notched at least five points.

Rajon Rondo, who was the only Celtic who had his offense going early on, believes that his team’s offensive struggles may have impacted its performance at the other end.

“We missed a lot of shots in the beginning of the game,” Rondo said. “I think it carried over to our defense.”

A performance like this was bound to happen after 11 days off without legitimate competition. The last time Boston’s top players all played substantial minutes together was way back on April 18, a 102-98 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Rust has clearly built up since that date. Several players used those 11 days as rest while others recovered from a long list of injuries. Yes, the players got two solid practices in on Friday and Saturday, but practice – particularly practice during the playoffs, when some players consciously try to avoid injuries – is much different than playing an NBA playoff game at full speed.

The good news for Boston is that the rust began to wear off. As the game progressed and the C’s fell into a rhythm, the production at both ends of the court improved markedly.

"You know, it’s funny, we outscored them for three quarters, the second third and fourth quarter until that last little skirmish where we gave up the silly points (at the end of the game),” Rivers said after the contest. “I think we were a plus-10 from the second, third and fourth quarter.”

The main reason why? That guy named Kevin Garnett.

Garnett is a rhythm player, maybe more so than any other player in the league. Rivers has said as much over the course of the past few seasons. It’s difficult for Garnett to go from barely playing over 11 days to stepping into Game 1. Much like the rest of the team, KG struggled in the first quarter but became a force as the game wore on.

“I thought Kevin was going too fast early,” Rivers critiqued. “I don’t know what he was at halftime, 1-for-9? And I thought six of them were good shots, but they were rushed. They could have been good shots, but I just thought he was rushed. You know, it happens. You get going too fast sometimes and I thought that happened with him tonight in the first half. I thought he settled down a little bit more in the second half.”

He sure did, scoring 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor in the final two quarters. As he gained his rhythm and the defense returned to its shutdown ways, you could tell that the real Celtics were creeping back into the picture.

In the end, though, the Celtics we’ve all come to know entered Game 1 just a few minutes late. Boston made its run, but it still fell short.

Now that the rust has been shaken off, the Celtics can use a day off to prepare the next step in this series against the Hawks. If they are who we think they are when the ball goes up for Game 2, the Celtics might just head back to Boston with home court advantage in their back pocket.