After holding the Cleveland Cavaliers to only 72 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Final playoff series, the Boston Celtics defense came right back out to play shutting down Lebron and Co. again in their 89-73 Game 2 win at the TD Banknorth Garden yesterday evening. At home during the playoffs, Boston’s defense has now held opponents to an average of 75.5 points per game while they’ve averaged 95.7 per contest at the Garden.
The Celtics looked to be in trouble early, trailing by as many as 12 points midway through the first quarter. Cavalier’s center Zydrunas Ilgauskas led the early charge starting the game 6-6 from the floor, hitting mid-range jump shots with confidence on multiple occasions. After the1st quarter the Celtics trailed 24-17 and looked to be in for a long night.
That thought quickly evaporated into the rafters of the Garden as the Celtics bench came out in the 2nd quarter on a mission. They picked apart the Cavs defensively which sparked an offensive run in which they outscored Cleveland 13-3 during the first seven minutes of the quarter. The C’s bench would score 20 of the 27 points during the 2nd, putting the Celtics up at the half 44-36.
As the Celtics continued to ride the high wave of energy reigning down on them from their home court fans, the Cavaliers never were able to find the same rhythm from the first quarter. Lebron James’s offensive woes continued after going 2-18 in Game 1, he followed it up with a 6-24 shooting performance last night, and for the first time all season looked frustrated. The defensive tenacity of Paul Pierce and James Posey has been one of the main reasons for James’s struggles. He scored 21 points on the night, 9 coming from the free throw line.
“I’m a little shocked that he’s 8-for-42, but this is what we work on. We work on trying to contain him,” said Pierce, who also struggled in Game 1 going 2-for-14. “LeBron is what makes them go. And if we can somehow control him, we control their team. And with the help of the guys around me, we’ve been able to do that.”
While the Celtics continued to play great defense, their Big Three got back into the offensive swing of things after a poor showing in Game 1 where Kevin Garnett was forced to carry the load. In that game, Ray Allen went scoreless and Pierce only had 4 points but both were able to break out of it last night in the winning effort. Allen dropped 16 points and Pierce rebounded from his Game 1 performance scoring 19 on a 7-13 shooting display. Garnett chipped in with 13 points and 12 rebounds in his 32 minutes of action.
“It was good to see Ray get it going. I thought that lifted everybody up on our team,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who called the first several plays of the second half for Allen. “I made a concerted effort. I told the coaches at halftime, ‘We’re going to him over and over again. We’ve got to get him going.’”
The teams will now hit the road and travel to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4, with one squad hoping to end the series and the other wanting to extend it.
“Being down 0-2, that’s a tough hole to dig yourself out of. But if we want to win the series we’ve got to do it,” James said and noted that last year Cleveland went down 0-2 against Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning four in a row to make it to the NBA Finals vs. San Antonio. “We’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve got to let them know that I’m not frustrated.”
His teammates must not be getting that message.
“He’s got to be frustrated,” Cavaliers guard Wally Szczerbiak said. “He’s such a good player. He puts so much on his shoulders.”
As the series shifts to Cleveland, the Celtics will hopefully pack their bags and bring along with them the same defensive intensity that they demonstrated in Games 1 and 2 in Boston. They already saw in Atlanta what can happen when the team relies too heavily on an offensive game, and lost three times in high scoring shoot-outs to the younger Hawks line-up. The key to having success on the road will be to continue to stress defense and shut down Lebron.
Easier said then done, but this Celtics line up looks more focused then ever on their quest for Green 17. Celtics Playoff tickets available for all potential games.