Overshadowed by Pierce, Ticket Turns in Solid Game
Deservedly so, Paul Pierce will get most of the headlines following the Celtics' 98-88 Game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, but, all night, the Celtics looked for--and got--a Big Ticket to ride.
Kevin Garnett put a crossover on Gasol and then finished with the hammer in the first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers Thrusday night.
In his Finals debut, Kevin Garnett recorded a double-double, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. The Celtics' power forward dominated on both ends of the court as well as at the bookends of the game, sparking the Celtics' offense out of the gate and registering huge defensive plays in the final frame.
Garnett's biggest play on the night may well have come in the early stages of the fourth quarter. The two teams had exchanged leads for much of the third, and, after weathering Pierce's dramatic return from injury, the Lakers stood poised for a run. With an 81-78 lead, the Celtics suffered through a dismal offensive sequence, culminating in an errant pass that saw the ball bounding back toward mid-court and an almost certain violation. Garnett steamed after the ball, and, leaping toward the line, lofted it back into the arms of P.J. Brown. The latter promptly fed Sam Cassell, who nailed a quick jumper to put the Celtics up by five. Soon thereafter, the lead jumped to eight, and the Celtics never relinquished their advantage.
"These are the biggest games we've been a part of, and this is not the time to be holding anything back," Garnett said after the game. "We don't plan on doing that."
Even while struggling (1 for 6) from the field in the fourth, Garnett remained a huge presence on defense, filling the lanes with Brown, pulling down three rebounds, and adding a steal for good measure. Garnett's putback slam of a James Posey missed three with 1:31 remaining sealed the Lakers' fate.
Ever the perfectionist, Garnett focused more on his failings after the game.
"My fourth quarter was plain out terrible," the Celtics' forward told reporters. "I thought I got my hands on loose balls, a lot of shots I knew I could make, rhythm shots, and I just missed them."
By contrast, Garnett was an all-around success in the first quarter. During the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Rajon Rondo spoke often of the need to get the Celtics' forward established early. Given the interior mismatch with Pau Gasol, the young point guard looked to Garnett early and often. KG responded with two buckets in the paint, including a nifty sidestep past Gasol that resulted in a forceful one-handed slam.
Garnett, a Finals' rookie, admitted that the circus atmosphere did play something of a role in the opening minutes of the game.
"Everybody was out there sort of trying to catch their breath the first couple trips up and down. But at the same time you ride the wave as long as you can and use your time accordingly, sit back and try to work on your breathing techniques and all that."
To much laughter in the press conference room, Garnett then added, "That's where yoga's got to come in."
Still, even while cracking the occasional joke, the Big Ticket remained deadly serious on the subject of his fourth-quarter shooting. Ominously for the Lakers, the man who notched a double-double in his Finals debut made an earnest vow regarding Sunday's Game 2--as well as the rest of the series.
"I could be better and I will be."