The Celtics were angry when they went in the locker room. John McEnroe angry.
That’s not the norm for a veteran team, and it was not at all like the Celtics team that has marched through the playoffs. But they didn’t play like those Celtics, either. These Celtics were pissed. Not with the referees (well, yes they were but not as much as you’d think).
They were angry with themselves. For the rebounds they gave up, the bad passes, the blown layups. For simply getting out worked all night.
“You saw it in guys’ faces, you heard it , from reactions after the game just how the guys felt,” Paul Pierce said. “It wasn’t a typical loss locker room. There was some angry people in there and they showed it. But that’s just the pride.”
That pride went before the fall in Game 1. Little things started to snowball on the Celtics, their pride got wrapped up in frustration, and pretty soon the Lakers were winning the hustle categories (17 to 4 on 50/50 balls, according to the Celtics own numbers). And the Lakers were winning the game.
Boston had better get that pride back by Sunday for Game 2. And bring a few adjustments with it. One loss to start a series on the road can be overcome. Two and that mountain gets a whole lot higher.
Boston’s problems started with dribble penetration. It’s something the Celtics usually shut off better than anybody in the league. They overload the strong side of the floor so there a wall of big men to greet the penetrator, but the Lakers did a good job quickly swinging the ball around the court to the weak side. The Celtics, as they do, closed out on the guy getting the pass, and usually that means a contested jumper on the weak side from the opposition.
The Lakers made a conscious effort not to settle for that jumper and to drive off of the pass. Other times they just blew by guards from the top of the key. They did what they wanted and got into the paint, and that is where things started to break down for the Celtics. A big man would have to come over to help the guard who was beat. That in turn led to offensive rebounds for the Lakers as nobody helped the helper, nobody was there to box out Pau Gasol (who had eight offensive rebounds alone).
“There was huge dribble penetration,” Glen Davis said. “We can’t have that next game if we want to win. We’re a better defensive team than that. We’ve got to help out.”
It also led to foul trouble. That and a quick-whistled referee crew. Ray Allen had two early fouls and sat, and he didn’t like it at all. But it wasn’t just Allen, it was Piece and Tony Allen and a number of other Celtics. (And it wasn’t just Celtics, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had early foul troubles and had to sit, the officials were in love with the quick whistle all around.) Ray Allen admitted he frustrated having to watch so much of the game and said one foul of his five was clearly legit.”
But they also knew the fouls were a symptom of bigger issues, not the problem in and of themselves.
“I thought the fouls were called because (the Lakers) were more physical,” Doc Rivers said. “I thought the Lakers were clearly the more physical team. I thought they were more aggressive. I thought they attacked us the entire night, and you know, I’ve always thought the team that is the most aggressive gets the better calls.”
However, the fouls helped the snowball pick up steam. The Celtics rhythm was thrown off and they could not adjust. Gasol was aggressive and outplayed Kevin Garnett, who could not get comfortable. And at times KG looked like his knees still bothered him. A lot. He missed two easy chippies under the basket. He made some horrific passes. The length of the Lakers had him and other Celtics rushing shots.
This is a veteran Celtics team. They got over the anger and frustration pretty quickly — certainly more quickly than their fans will. They know it’s about making a few adjustments then just playing with a lot more energy. They knew what they needed to do.
Because one more game like this one and the Celtics will have plenty to really be angry about.