Celtics can’t keep up with Heat in Game 1
MIAMI - The Celtics spent the first two playoff series successfully corralling young, feisty opponents, but they were not up to speed in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night.
After playing the Heat even in the opening half, the Celtics were outpaced, outplayed, and outscored in the second half of a 93-79 defeat at AmericanAirlines Arena.
LeBron James (32 points, 13 rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (22 points) upped the velocity in the second half and the Celtics, playing less than 48 hours after a Game 7, simply stagnated.
“LeBron and Wade, their defense was phenomenal,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought they did a great job of doubling, getting back, playing the passing lanes. I mean, they’re cat-quick, that’s what they are. We know that going into the series - as much as you can watch it and prepare for it, I think you need face it once to see it and get used to it. I thought their speed at times overwhelmed us, for sure.’’
The Celtics were motoring along with a 13-3 close to the opening half, tying the score, 46-46.
But James and Wade shifted gears as the second half began and soon left the Celtics in the dust, the Heat leading by as many as 17 points early in the final quarter.
“I thought they were ready to play, I’m talking about Miami,’’ Rivers said. “I thought we kind of joined the game. First quarter, we gave them a cushion, which I thought gave them a lot of confidence. I thought in the second quarter, we executed, ourselves, offensively. The ball started moving, I thought we started competing.’’
The Celtics were able to establish Kevin Garnett (23 points, 10 rebounds) in the post. But Rajon Rondo was inconsistent, committing four turnovers in the opening half, zero in the second half, and shooting 8 for 20 for 16 points to go with 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Ray Allen (6 points) and Paul Pierce (5 of 18 shooting, 12 points) struggled.
The Heat led, 21-11, after a quarter and by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter, maintaining a 10-point advantage late in the half. The Celtics rallied on a Greg Stiemsma layup, an Allen free throw, a layup by Rondo, and a Pierce 3-pointer out of a timeout, cutting the deficit to 43-41 with 2:48 to go. Joel Anthony followed a James airball 3-point try, the basket disallowed during a halftime review, which ruled the shot clock had expired.
Anthony converted a foul shot off the rebound to make it 46-43 with 38 seconds remaining. Then Pierce landed a 3-pointer with 19 seconds to tie, 46-46.
But there were indications the Celtics were not themselves - they were assessed four technical fouls in the opening half, plus one in the second half, and Allen went 3 for 7 from the foul line.
James scored 17 points in the opening 19 minutes, scoring mostly on power moves, bankers, a fadeaway, and dunks. On one dunk, James shocked the Celtics with his anticipation and quickness, finishing the play in slow motion with no Celtic in position to pursue.
“I thought Keyon [Dooling] came in and changed the game for us with his defensive energy,’’ Rivers said of the late rally in the second quarter. “Then, in the third quarter, the game just got away from us. I thought we rushed our offense. I never thought we ever got into our rhythm as far as getting from one side of the floor to the other, second and third options. And they made some shots - but they made way too many layups, they had way too many layups.
“We have to do a better job protecting the paint. There’s no way any team should get that many layups, that many point-blank shots against our defense.’’
Miami started the second half with a 13-6 run. The Celtics failed to convert on their first possession, Mario Chalmers hitting a transition jumper to break the tie. Garnett then fired up an airball, James following with a 20-footer for a 50-46 Heat edge with 10:53 left in the third quarter. Two Garnett foul shots and Brandon Bass’s first field goal tied the score, then the Heat went on a 9-2 run over a 2:04 span. Shane Battier hit a 3-pointer, and the Celtics soon seemed to become flat-footed defensively. Wade was fouled on an alley-oop dunk attempt, then James got a breakaway layup with no Celtic within 30 feet, and Wade drove for a layup and a 59-52 advantage with 6:26 left.
Rondo was assessed a technical foul - the Celtics’ fifth - with 5:06 remaining, seconds after Bass cut the Celtic deficit to 62-56. James missed the technical and Pierce pulled the Celtics within 4 with 4:36 left. But the Celtics would not get any closer.
Wade drove for a layin and found James underneath, then James was fouled by Mickael Pietrus, his free throw giving the Heat a 68-58 advantage with 2:55 to go. Pierce had two shots blocked, then lost the ball to a double team, Chalmers’s layup upping the Heat lead to 12. James followed a Garnett foul shot with a move in the lane for a 72-59 Miami lead with 1:33 left. Pierce missed a 3-pointer and was replaced by Allen with 58 seconds remaining, Garnett then firing in a shot-clock buzzer 22-footer as the Celtics trailed by 11 points after three quarters.
The Heat got the lead to 17 early in the final quarter, then called time after a 6-2 Celtic spurt. That seemed to stifle the Celtics’ momentum. Garnett’s 3-point play pulled the Celtics within 82-70 with 5:19 left. Then, James got a second-chance banker, Wade a drive, and James a free throw around a Pietrus free throw to make the score 87-71 with 3:44 left, and the Celtics started experimenting with zone defenses and a lineup that included Sean Williams making his first appearance of the playoffs.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.