MIAMI — There was no panic in any of the Celtics Monday night despite their 93-79 loss to the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Most of the country may be penciling Miami into the next round after one game, but the Celtics insist they’re not done.
“This is not our best basketball,” said Kevin Garnett, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. “So I believe we have better basketball in us. In order for us to stay alive, we’ve got to play better, and we will.”
Clearly the Celtics need to play better. Monday’s concerning stats included a 48-33 rebound disadvantage, 10 missed free throws, and 5 of 18 shooting for Paul Pierce, who failed to earn a trip to the foul line in the game. Pierce said he thought he was being aggressive enough to earn a few calls. All of these concerning stats can be fixed.
“Guys want to win,” said Pierce. “We’re a confident group. We stay together and move on.”
Said Mickael Pietrus, “We’ll keep fighting.”
Fighting is good, but there are tangible improvements the Celtics can make for Game 2. Here are five things the Celtics can do to steal a game in Miami and turn the series in their favor:
— Get out and run:
Run? Against the Heat? Miami is the best running team in the league, but contrary to popular belief, the Celtics won’t be feeding into that at all by running themselves. The Celtics had five fast break points in Game 1 to 10 for the Heat. That second number is low de to the fact that the Celtics turned the ball over just eight times. That’s the key to limiting Miami’s fast break. On the other end, the Celtics get into their offense easier when they push the ball. Garnett got his best post position off fast breaks, posting up closer to the basket than when Rajon Rondo walked the ball up the floor.
— Get Rondo’s assist/turnover ratio up:
Rondo was averaging 12.5 assists to 3.5 turnovers per game in the playoffs before Game 1, when that ratio was 7 assists to 4 turnovers. Rondo needs that number to be up around 3:1 or 4:1 rather than the pedestrian numbers he put up Monday. That’s easier said than done, and the Heat play underrated defense — it’s really their best attribute despite all the LeBron/Wade hype — but Rondo is one place the Celtics have an edge. He needs to be dominant.
— They keep their cool:
Debating over technical fouls is a waste of time, and the Celtics weren’t going to win Game 1 before they were whistled for five T’s. But it doesn’t help, and in a close game, those points can make all the difference.
“We just got ’em,” Rondo said of the technicals after the game. “I don’t know how we got ’em, but that’s just how it was called.”
He stopped himself there and said he better stop before he got fined. Doc Rivers was not so reserved and will probably be fined for calling the technical he received the worst he’s ever gotten in his career. The Celtics need to stop and think during Game 2, even if it means letting James stand there and punk Garnett like he did in the second half. James will never, ever be called for taunting. Stop worrying about it and move on.
— Improve the defense:
The Heat only scored 93 points Monday night, but they shot 50 percent from the field. The Celtics will lose every game this series when the Heat shoot 50 percent. Every. Single. One. Make it harder on Miami, and they have a chance.
— Get something from Allen or the bench:
This is the playoffs. Role players rarely come up huge. But the Boston bench at least needs to be efficient. The bench combined for 14 points in Game 1, led by six from Greg Stiemsma. How about more production from Pietrus (one point)? How about Allen, who is a starter because of injury, shoots better than 1 for 7 from the field?
Allen could be the wild card in this series, and that’s scary because he might not have what it takes physically to carry them through. But he’s not panicking. On what the loss means, Allen was blunt.
“Nothing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything. They just beat us one game.”
The Celtics can turn the series dramatically by beating the Heat in just one game Wednesday night.