A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Celtics Rout Pacers in Game 1
BOSTON, MA—Exactly how did the Celtics thrash the Indiana Pacers on Saturday after having so many things work against them in the first quarter, and, to a certain extent, throughout the game? After all the Cs shot 27.3% from the field in the opening frame, which included Antoine Walker’s 1-for-8; And Paul Pierce wouldn’t hit his first field goal, until 7:56 remaining in the final frame – having shot no-for-9 from the field (no-for-3 from the deep end) up to that point. Not only did the Celts beat the Pacers by 20, but they managed to build leads as high as 37 to secure a 102-82 victory over the sixth seeded Pacers in front of 18,624 live witnesses, which must have left many of those routing for the Pacers to wonder how it happened.
Well, wonder no more. The rout happened because of the following:
Raef LaFrentz was able to keep the home team in the game throughout the first quarter when the Cs shot 6-for-22 from the field and converted only 28.6% from three-point range. While Pierce and Walker were missing everything, Raef established his presence with a dunk (4-8 Pacers), and back-to-back threes that were sandwiched between a Stephen Jackson shot (25 points). LaFrentz’s second three pulled Boston within two (12-14) with 4:01 still to play in the first. The Cs were 3-for-15 at that point with Raef contributing all three field goals. The Pacers also had three blocks by the 4:58 mark of the opening period.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Ricky Davis, was once again the difference-maker for the Celtics. Ricky D checked in the game for Tony Allen at the 3:26 mark in the first quarter, and immediately snapped a 17-footer with not even 10 seconds elapsing from the clock (14-16). “I thought that when Ricky came in the game and he made that shot right when he came in off the bench, I thought that was maybe the most significant play in the game for us because it gave him energy and it gave the team energy,” admitted Doc after Game 1. The Cs were just 4-for-17 from the field at that point. Ricky finished the game 5-for-8 from the field and had 13 points in 25 minutes of action.
“I thought Ricky’s defense was terrific as well,” Doc continued. “I don’t think Ricky gets enough credit for his defense. He’s such a great offensive player. He may be our best defender off the ball.”
Antoine Walker bounced back from a woeful first quarter and was perfect from the field in the second quarter (3-for-3). He finished the game 6-for-16 from the field (13 points), and contributed four assists. When he felt comfortable enough to take his second three-point attempt (if y’all haven’t noticed, Andtwine has been thinking twice before hoisting a shot from beyond the arc, usually opting for the drive), the rout was official 76-39.
“Antoine got some great looks,” said Celtic coach Doc Rivers after the game on Saturday. “It looked like he was pressing just a little but. But once he calmed down and came back in the second quarter, he got back to being the Antoine we know.”
“I just tried not to stay down on myself,” said Employee Number 8 when asked what he did to get him back into the groove of the game. “Because I was missing shots and the game was still close. And watching the second unit go out there, I just took my time out there and got a little more lift on my shot. I just tried to stay aggressive.”
And, just as they have done on several occasions during the regular season, the difference proved to be the young bucks. The outstanding plays of Al Jefferson and Marcus Banks in the second quarter not only turned the game around, but it kept momentum on Boston’s side. Banks introduced himself to the playoffs in an impressionable fashion: He picked the pocket of Eddie Gill before Gill could take a second bounce off of an inbounds pass, and when he scored, Boston had a four-point lead (24-20). He then crossed up Gill and dropped down a nice feed to Mark Blount for a slam, all in Jeff Foster’s grill (26-20). He followed that brilliant pass with back-to-back threes to give Boston an 11-point cushion (35-21).
“Marcus Banks put pressure on the basketball. He made it hard for them to get into an offense,” complimented Banks’ mentor Gary Payton. “Everybody was playing that intensity defense, made them miss shots, and then they ran it back down their throats.”
Where Walker struggled early, the Emerald Al Jefferson excelled. The young rookie shined in the post, and his two-handed block on Jermaine O’Neal with 9:55 left in the first half sparked a run that turned a five-point advantage (26-21) into a 26-point margin at halftime (57-31). Jefferson had his way with the veteran Dale Davis in the post, and was making the 13-year pro look like the rookie fresh out of high school. ‘Toine seemed eager to check back in the game and “get some” as both he and Jefferson began to “son” the Pacers frontcourt.
Tony Allen frustrated Reggie Miller on the stage that is supposed to be reserved for “Miller Time.” Allen played great defense and caused Miller to get a technical foul assessed against him with 3:07 to play in the half. Pierce converted the free throw to put Boston up 51-26. Allen then sent the “Garden” into a frenzy when he closed the half by being on the receiving end of a pass from Paul Pierce. Allen, who was anticipating the pass as he waited along the baseline, slammed home the point with 1.7 seconds to play in the half, sending the sell out crowd into a standing ovation.
“The second unit just played great,” praised Antoine Walker. “Marcus, Al, Delonte (West), and those guys stepped up huge and made big plays and made big shots and built a comfortable lead. And the starters were able to come back in and finish that second quarter. It was a great effort from our young guys, especially for their first time in the playoffs.”
It also should be noted that Gary Payton had his way with Anthony Johnson all throughout the third quarter. Payton shook off whatever rust he had from an ailing back and a poor halftime performance (two points on one for four from the field, and no for two from the deep end), and came out on fire in the third quarter. The game may have been decided by then, but Payton still exploded for 5-for-6 from the field (10 points) and four assists in the third quarter alone. Payton finished the game with 14 points and seven assists.
Pierce finished the game 2-for-11 from the field, but was 7-for-9 from the charity stripe. He also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and recorded a game-high five steals and only had two turnovers in the 33 minutes that he logged.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” said Doc during post-game interviews with the media. “We played terrific obviously, but we do expect them to give a great effort and we have to be ready for that challenge.”
After Game 1, it appears the Celtics are ready for whatever comes their way. Hopefully, their outstanding team play will carry through the rest of the opening round.