Basketball is about how you adapt and how you finish.
The first 24 minutes Saturday’s Game 1 between Boston and New York went exactly how the Celtics want this first round series to unfold — Boston shot 53.6 overall and 4-10 from three, Jeff Green had 20 points on 10 shots, Avery Bradley had 11 points, and their defense disrupted New York and forced them into isolation sets.
While the Celtics offense went cold in the third, their defense still forced the Knicks to be shoot jumpers (contested ones at that), and after 36 minutes Boston was up three. The Celtics looked like they could steal one in New York.
Then in the fourth quarter the Knicks defense stepped up and the Celtics stayed ice cold — Boston shot 3-of-11 with eight turnovers in the quarter. Carmelo Anthony hit 4-of-5 in the fourth to have 8 of his 36 points and the Knicks had four key offensive rebounds.
The result is a huge 85-78 win for New York, putting them up 1-0 in the series. Game 2 is Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
This is a loss Boston is going to kick themselves for — it was a winnable game where they defended and got points from unexpected sources, but their lack of depth and inability generate offense did them in.
Boston had 25 points on 25.9 percent shooting in the second half (credit New York’s defense for some of that, but not all). For the game Boston’s bench was 0-of-7 shooting with 4 points. Jason Terry was a disaster at both ends (0-for-5 shooting with a lot of missed defensive assignments) but Doc Rivers had to play him key minutes down the stretch because he did not have better options.
In a lot of ways this game played out as we expect this series to go.
We saw the gritty Celtics’ defense soak up space and make it difficult for the Knicks shooters — New York as a team shot 40.9 percent for the game. Anthony shot 13-of-29 and saw Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley crowd him and make life difficult. The refs were letting them play in this game and that was to Boston’s advantage as their defense could get physical.
Still, there were stretches when there was nothing Boston could do to stop ‘Melo — he started 4-of-4 because they gave him too much room. He finished the game hitting 4-of-5 in the fourth even with a hand in his face at times.
The Knicks got 15 points from J.R. Smith (but on 19 shots) and some key plays down the stretch from Jason Kidd with steals and offensive rebounds. They showed some poise at home that Boston could just not match.
Jeff Green finished the game with 26 points (he had just six after halftime as he settled and stopped trying to get to the rim) and Paul Pierce added 21. Kevin Garnett shot 4-of-12 on the night but had nine rebounds. However, Boston was 1-of-10 from three in the second half and Pierce and Terry were a combined 1-of-11 from three for the game. Among the things Boston needs in this series is their three pointers to fall.
Doc Rivers has adjustments to make, the problem is without Rajon Rondo, with a shallow bench, his options are limited. The Celtics need guys like Courtney Lee to step up to have any shot in this series — and they can’t have extended dry spells on offense.
For the Knicks, expect better defense out of them in Game 2, they played only a half of defense and got away with it in Game 1. The Knicks need more production out of Tyson Chandler, who showed the effects of the bulging disc in his neck with zero shot attempts and 5 rebounds. Kenyon Martin stepped up in his place with 10 points and 9 rebounds.
And that may be the ultimate difference in this series — Mike Woodson has depth and options that work for the Knicks, while the play of the Celtics bench ties Doc Rivers’ hands.