The first game of the Eastern Conference Finals went largely as expected. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining for 54 points, and with the Celtics offense being wildly inconsistent, Miami cruised to a 93-79 victory that seemed to see Boston’s worst fears in facing the Heat in this series become reality.
James got going early, outscoring the Celtics by himself in the first period 13-11, while helping his team get out to a 10-point lead after one. Boston climbed back into it in the second by getting balanced scoring from its stars against the Heat’s second unit, with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen combining for 28 of their team’s 35 points in the period.
Unfortunately for Boston, that offensive performance was short-lived, and a complete aberration.
Pierce finished with just 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting; the responsibility of checking James on the defensive end for most of the night clearly took its toll. Allen played more than 38 minutes, but he managed just 1-of-7 shooting, and even more uncharacteristically, missed four of his seven free throw attempts; he’s definitely not right, and the ankle injury is obviously crushing his normally stellar ability to rain down shots at an extremely high percentage.
Garnett was the Celtics best and most consistent offensive player, finishing with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting. But that’s also telling of Boston’s offensive woes, because when your strongest offensive option is your power forward knocking down long jumpers, it means that nothing is coming easy.
Setting aside Boston’s problems offensively for a moment — which may very well continue for the majority of this series — the team did have some measure of success in two areas. The Celtics limited the Heat’s opportunities in transition, and held Miami to just 10 fast break points. And, the Heat missed 20 of their 25 three-point attempts.
Boston went to a zone defense late, with the game essentially already having been decided. It was successful, and Doc Rivers said afterward that we can expect to see more of it as the series progresses. If Boston can keep Miami from getting into the lane and out in transition, then defensively, the Celtics have a shot to keep the games from getting out of hand and give themselves a fighting chance.
But the reality is that there were times in this game that Boston simply looked gassed defensively. And with the Celtics having no answer to slow James and Wade with individual defenders or with their team defensive schemes, unless they can create some better looks for Allen and Pierce — neither of whom appear to be playing at 100 percent health-wise — this figures to be a very short series, and one that will end in an inevitable return trip to the Finals for the Heat.