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Game 2 Was “Miller Time”
BOSTON, MA.—“We lost Game 2 and won Game 1. That was the difference,” is what Celtic captain Paul Pierce replied when asked what the difference was between Game 1 and Game 2 of the opening round of the NBA playoffs between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics lost Game 2 82-79.
When asked to elaborate, the Truth, who scored 33 points but missed a 3-pointer with .2 seconds remaining in the game, continued, “We knew the Pacers were going to come out with a better effort (than in Game 1). What we have to do as the starters of the ball game, we have to get the starters to get the team off to a better start. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew Reggie was going to come out a little bit more inspired than Game 1. And he did a great job of carrying his team.”
Miller, who has been carrying the Indiana Pacers for the past month, led the Pacers with 28 points, including a patented runner from 17-feet out just after faking Antoine Walker in the air and taking one extra dribble for a better look at the basket.
Pierce also missed a crucial free throw that would’ve knotted the score at 80 with 56.8 remaining in the game. Despite the two shooting miscues, Pierce had an outstanding game and carried the Green throughout Game 2, connecting on 9-of-16 from the field and committing only one turnover in 43 minutes of action. When Indiana turned up the defensive intensity and contested every shot, Pierce muscled his way down the lane and earned trips to the free throw line for most of the night. Of the 15 attempts that he had from the charity stripe, he converted 13 of them.
“It’s not about me,” said Pierce during the post-game interview when asked about his performance on Monday. “It’s about the team. We win as a team. We lose as a team.”
Antoine Walker added 19 points for the Celtics. He too shot well from the field, converting 8 of his 16 attempts (1-for-3 from the field), and tied for the game-high with seven rebounds. Walker also added three assists, two steals, and a block shot in the 40 minutes that he logged.
However, Walker missed a key layup on a drive with 1:40 remaining in the game and the scored tied at 78. Interestingly enough, Walker turned down a wide open three-pointer on the left baseline when he decided to penetrate. He missed the layup badly, but was skilled enough to anticipate the carom and grab the rebound. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to convert on that shot either. Reggie Miller retrieved the miss, which led to an easy layup by Anthony Johnson. The point turned out to be the winning basket for the Pacers (78-80).
“I was very disappointed in our defense down the stretch,” said Pierce. “We gave up too many easy baskets. They had a couple dunks; a couple layups. And that can’t happen. Not in the playoffs. Not at home. Not anywhere. Down the stretch we got to do a better job defensively. We gave two layups to Anthony Johnson; Reggie Miller gets a wide open shot. And that can’t happen.”
Tony Allen seemed to ignite “Miller Time” when he received a technical foul for taunting Reggie Miller in the 3rd quarter. Allen received the technical after he followed up a Gary Payton miss with a left-handed dunk (46-49). After the play, Allen handed the ball to Miller, who had neglected to box out Allen just before the follow-up. The result was an unsportsmanlike technical foul. “I can live with that,” is what Doc Rivers said when asked to comment on the play. “Tony knew it right away, I’ll give him that.”
The sellout crowd sided with Allen and began to taunt Miller every time he touched the ball. “He’s a hard-nosed player and I respect what he does out there on the court,” said Miller when asked about Tony Allen and the incident. “I’m just trying to play hard and finish my tenure here. Sometimes you just got to let sleeping dogs lie. I haven’t talked trash in about six or seven years in a playoff series.”
Miller bounced back from shooting 1-for-7 from the field in Game 1 to 9-for-18 from the field (3-for-9 from beyond the arc) in Game 2. “Anytime you wake up a guy like Reggie Miller and want to go at him, you’re in for a long night,” said Stephen Jackson.
Jackson, who has been the lone consistent player for Indiana thus far and led the Pacers in Game 1 with 25 points on 9-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-4 from three-point territory, added 20 points on 6-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-5 from the deep end on Monday. “I think last game they just came out and they didn’t play against us, they took that game. And we wanted to make sure they didn’t do that (in Game 2),” said Jackson after Game 2.
Jermaine O’Neal shot much better than his Game 1 performance too. He may have only scored 13 points, but eight of those points came in the second half, and four of those second half points came after the three minute mark in the fourth quarter when Indiana needed points from somebody outside of Miller and Stephen Jackson. O’Neal finished the game 5-for-12 from the field, much better than the 3-for-12 performance he recorded in Game 1.
In your writer’s humble opinion, the Green lost Game 2 because of two factors: the first being lack of defense, especially in the first and fourth quarters.
In the first quarter, Indiana converted 64.3% of their shots from the field (9-for-14), including 5-for-5 from the deep end (three from Stephen Jackson and two from Reggie Miller). The fourth quarter defense was abysmal on the part of the Green. Stephen Jackson was able to score his first points since the first quarter when he got a clear path to the lane off of a drive, which resulted in a dunk (75-70) with 5:58 remaining in the game. The next two Indiana field goals came from within 10 feet when Jermaine O’Neal scored his 11th point of the night on a layup (76-72 with 3:30 remaining), and Anthony Johnson scored his seventh point of the night on a turnaround from seven feet (78-76).
After Ricky Davis had his shot blocked by James Jones, Stephen Jackson broke free from Paul Pierce and had a clear path down the baseline for a two-handed dunk to tie the game at 78. (Note to Celts: You can’t win a playoff game by letting anybody tie the game on a driving dunk with inside of two minutes remaining in the game.) Antoine then passed up on the open three and missed the two shots from close range, Johnson took the lead with the fairly uncontested drive, Pierce missed 1-of-2 free throws, Ricky D took a tough shot on the next Celtics’ possession, then it was Miller Time. Game over.
But to me, the most crucial error of the game was Doc’s decision to not play the young guys in the 2nd half. I can understand not wanting to sub for Walker and Pierce since they were the only ones providing offense for the Celtics, but Raef LaFrentz and Mark Blount combined for 22 unproductive minutes in the second half. LaFrentz hit 1-of-2 free throws and Blount made 1-of-3 field goals for a combined three second half points for the veterans in the frontcourt. I’m sure Al Jefferson would’ve found more production with those 22 minutes than the aforementioned vets.
After scoring eight points in 17 minutes and being perfect from the field and the free throw line in last Saturday’s 102-82 victory over the Pacers, Jefferson only logged nine minutes in the loss on Monday, and didn’t play in the second half at all. Jefferson scored two points, hitting one out of the three shots he took. However, he was still active on the glass, grabbing five rebounds (three offensive rebounds) and blocking another Jermaine O’Neal shot for the second consecutive game.
“Sometimes you just go with your gut. I didn’t think Al had a good rhythm tonight so I went away from him. I went back and forth on it, I just didn’t like the way the game was being played at that time,” explained Coach Rivers. “Toward the end of the third quarter, Paul was getting it on and so was Antoine. So you have that choice: You take you take them out, give them a minute or two, and go with the young guys, or you don’t. Since we lost, maybe I should have. It was a tough call for me, I’ll be honest. We’re going to need Al. I thought Al came in early trying to score instead of trying to let the game come to him. We told him that they were going to bring guys at him, which is fine. I thought he was still trying to score instead of giving it up and reposting.”
“We had many chances to win the game,” continued Doc. “We just didn’t pull it out. We didn’t do the things we need to do to win on both ends.”
It’s still a long series,” Pierce optimistically stated. “Now our goal is to go into Indiana, get one possibly two, and try to come back home and close it.”