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The Celtics dropped game 1 of their best-of-seven first round playoff series to the New York Knicks, 85-78. The Celtics’ led by as many as seven points late in the third quarter, but couldn’t hang on. Game 2 is set for Tuesday night back at Madison Square Garden. What did the Celtics and their fans learn from game 1?
After ACL tears to both Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa left the Celtics thin in the backcourt, Doc Rivers and the coaching staff decided that they would play a ‘point guard by committee’ style of Basketball. The Knicks exposed this strategy on Saturday. Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce and Jeff Green, the Celtics primary ball-handling playmakers in their offensive system, combined for 16 of the team’s 21 turnovers. Meanwhile, Knicks point guard, Raymond Felton, turned the ball over just twice in 43 minutes of play.
Without someone to control the pace of the game and find easy baskets for teammates, the Celtics offense disappeared in crunch-time. The Celtics mustered just 8 points in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, which set a new franchise-low for fourth quarter points in a playoff game.
This is something Doc knew before the series, but also a fact that was on full display in game 1. You can’t help but tip your hat to Brandon Bass. Bass bullied Anthony into a productive but inefficient first half, making him take tough shots and forcing him to freeze out his teammates in an attempt to go mano-a-mano with the Celtics’ forward. Anthony passed the ball only three times in the first half, which was a key reason the Celtics took a four point lead into the break.
In the second, Melo made the adjustment and was MVP-candidate Carmelo Anthony and more. With the Celtics struggling to find buckets, they had to turn to a small ball lineup that featured Green on Melo. Green gave it his all, but was ultimately not strong enough to have the same physical impact on Anthony that Bass had. Anthony finished with 36 points and 6 rebounds on 13-for-29 shooting.
Maybe the most unsettling thing about Saturday’s meltdown for the Celtics, was the play of Jason Terry and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics limped through the regular season banking on the fact that when it matters in the playoffs, Garnett and Terry will be there for the club. This just may not be the case anymore.
Garnett shot just 4-for-12 for 8 points, but also looked like he had to work extra hard against Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin just to get off a clean look. Terry went scoreless in 20 minutes, and got two clean looks at potential game altering threes that he clanked- hard.
The young guys were the ones to lead the Celtics on Saturday. Green scored 26, Bradley added 15 and both players shot better than 50 percent from the field. If the Celtics are going to have a shot at climbing back in this series, it’s going to be because Bradley and Green consistently contribute, and because Garnett and Terry find the magic that made both of them NBA Champions earlier in their careers.