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For more than 40 minutes, the Celtics played like a green machine: uncharacteristically sharp and efficient on offense, and, as they've been all year, stifling on D.
But the last eight minutes almost rendered the first 40 meaningless. Up 95-71 with 7:55 to go in the game, the Celtics let the Lakers climb back to within two, 104-102 in the final minute. Boston held on though, never allowing L.A. a chance to tie as Paul Pierce drew a foul on a drive on a critical possession with 22.8 seconds to go.
A win is a win, so there was plenty that went right on Sunday. But in getting outscored 41-25 in the fourth quarter, there was also plenty that went wrong.
The league average for assist-field goal ratio (percentage of field goals which are assisted) is about 58 percent. Tonight, the Celtics assisted on 31 of their 36 field goals, an astronomical ratio of 86.1 percent.
They pushed the ball for 14 fast break points, got buckets on the secondary break before the defense could set up, and penetrated the lane in the halfcourt. The Lakers' D was on their heels most of the night, and the Celtics were not only aggressive, they made the right play and found the open man.
"I think the first three and a half quarters we moved the ball," Ray Allen said after the game. "We attacked, we made the pass, we swung it, and everybody touched the ball."
The ball movement led to 52.9 shooting from the field and 64.3 percent (9-for-14) from downtown. Boston showed that the No. 1 defensive team in the league can also score some points on occasion.
Rajon Rondo's Penetration
More than half of the 31 assists (16 to be exact) came from the Celtics' point guard, the starter who's ability to lead a championship contending team has been questioned since the day of the Kevin Garnett trade.
Rondo was the one leading the break and in the halfcourt, he was getting into the paint to draw defenders and find his teammates. He would have had more than 16 dimes if the recipients of his passes hadn't been fouled on multiple occasions.
"That's what I take pride in," Rondo said after the game, "getting guys the ball. Like I said, tonight they made shots, I just got them the ball."
The Celtics attempted 38 free throws in Game 2. The Lakers attempted 10. A result of the aforementioned ball movement and penetration, the 28-attempt difference was easily the highest of the Celtics' season to date. Leon Powe led the way with 14 attempts, but seven of the nine Celtics who played got to the line at least once.
Missing the Post
On Saturday, Doc Rivers told ESPN's Dr. Jack Ramsay that he would like to get Kevin Garnett the ball in the post around 30 times per game. Before Game 2, he elaborated:
"Our numbers are staggering when we throw the ball to Kevin. That doesn't mean, again, just like I was saying that he scores, it means that we score.
"We tend to get away from that at times, and I think they think it looks like at times when we go pick and roll when he's popping, that counts as a Kevin Garnett touch. We don't count that as a touch. And so we were way under the number that he should have had it in the post in Game 1, and we have to do better."
Well, in Game 2, the Celtics didn't come close to getting Garnett 30 touches in the post. When they did, it usually resulted in a score, but KG's post touches were few and far between.
"I'm still not very happy about it," Rivers said afterward. "We just aren't posting the ball up enough, in my opinion, and we have to do that more."
Rajon Rondo's Hesitation
As terrific as Rondo was on the break or driving and dishing, when he got the ball on the perimeter for an open jumper, he looked scared to take the shot. Sometimes, he made a quick move to the basket. Other times, he hesitated and looked to give it up to a teammate, who didn't necessarily have a better look.
In the final minute of the game, with his team's lead down to four, Rondo was presented with one of those open jumpers. He took it, but the result was a brick that resulted in a pair of Kobe Bryant free throws on the other end six seconds later.
Rondo will continue to get open looks in this series. The Lakers are leaving him alone on the perimeter on every possession. If his confidence is not there, it could be a problem for the Celtics.
"If he doesn't shoot the jumper," Doc Rivers said after the game, "we just want him to make quick plays, quick decisions."
"We'll watch film and show Rondo where his spots, where his shots are. We've got to convince him that it's all right to miss a shot and then take another one and then take another one. If they're going to leave you open, you've got to keep shooting it or making plays."
No Killer Instinct
While it's been their offense that has been their problem in the fourth quarter in the past, the Celtics did score 25 points in the fourth tonight, and all game, they never had a drought of more than three straight possessions. On the possessions in the fourth where they didn't score, they got pretty good shots, and they shot 8-for-16 in the period while getting to the line 12 times.
But they were on their heels defensively more than offensively. The Lakers were extra aggressive in the final period, and the vaunted Celtics defense did not step up.
"I think there was probably a turnover or two we would have taken back," Ray Allen said, "but the momentum swung in their favor and you figure they made almost every three that they took to get them back in the game."
L.A. shot 14-for-22 in the fourth, including 7-for-11 from downtown. In a way, that can be chalked up to desperation, but the Celtics need to find a way to put their foot down in that situation.
A Win is a Win
In the end, it doesn't matter if they won Game 2 by 26 or by six.
"We're up 2 0 and I'm happy with the win," Rivers said. "I just wasn't very happy with the way we played."
But no matter how they played, the Celtics are where they want to be ... two wins from a championship.
Oh yeah, and Paul Pierce (28 points, eight assists, 4-for-4 from downtown) looks to be just fine.