Yet there is cause for some serious concern for the Celtics after Game 1, mainly due to their utter bewilderment in the offensive end. While part of that can be attributed to foul trouble and the lack of flow in a game that had 54 personal fouls called, the majority of it has to go to the Lakers' game plan and execution on defense.
With the obvious footnote that Ray Allen was stuck on the bench for nearly half of the game due to foul trouble, the Celtics could get next to nothing going in their half-court offense and even less on fast breaks. Add in a complete inability to grab offensive rebounds (Rajon Rondo had four but the C's big men had just four combined, while Pau Gasol had eight on his own), and the Lakers looked to be in a different class on Thursday night.
The main reason may be the neutralization of Rondo's explosiveness. Though he finished with a decent line of 13 points, six rebounds and eight assists, he wasn't nearly the force that he needs to be for the Celtics to win games. While the credit goes to Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher for a collective effort, it was clear that the players were running Phil Jackson's plans to perfection.
"They did a good job of collapsing when I did get a chance to get inside the paint," a quiet Rondo said after the game. "They're very long — Gasol and Bynum. Fisher's very clever. … They did a good job of mixing it up."
Paul Pierce, who finished with a team-high 24 points and nine rebounds, was not quite as discouraged but was equally disappointed in the Celtics' lack of effort.
"They were [more physical]," he said. "Look at the rebound numbers. Look at the blocks. Look at the hustle — the stuff that doesn't even show up in the box scores that you saw in the game. … We gotta do a better job pushing these guys back on the rebounds, outhustling them for the loose balls and things of that nature. That's where they beat us."
Pierce is right — to an extent. The Celtics weren't winning many battles, getting outscored in the paint 48-30 and outrebounded 42-31, but the Lakers were in such complete control that even if the Celtics had been stronger, it probably wouldn't have mattered.
The Lakers employ two crunch-time killers in Bryant and Fisher, and neither had to shift into third gear during the fourth quarter. It makes you at least wonder if the Celtics could have won even if they had played their best game.
The other troubling takeaway from Boston's perspective was the lack of life off the bench. Rasheed Wallace put in an OK 18 minutes, scoring nine points while grabbing four rebounds, but that was about it. Tony Allen played some tough defense on Bryant but scored just four points. Nate Robinson was a plus-10 off the bench but was 0-for-3 from the field, including a pair of missed 3's, one of which would have put the Celtics up by one midway through the second quarter. Instead, the Lakers went on a 15-6 run to gain a double-digit lead.
In the sense that seemingly everything that could have went wrong did go wrong, it could be a positive for the Celtics. Kevin Garnett at times looked like a rookie, especially when his hands turned to stone halfway through the fourth quarter and he missed an easy lay-in and botched the follow-up attempt. That won't happen again. The Celtics shot just 1-of-10 from 3-point range, their worst performance since a 1-for-14 effort in Game 4 against Cleveland (which only resulted in a win thanks to Rondo's superhuman performance). That likely won't repeat, either.
It'd be hard for them to play that poorly again, yes, but we haven't seen the best of the Lakers. It will take the very best of the Celtics to make this a series on Sunday night.
During the Game 1 telecast, ABC aired a brief feature on the motivational tool that Doc Rivers used to get his team to the finals. The coach took $100 from every player, coach and manager back in February, placed it in an envelope, and hid the $2,600 in the visiting locker room at the Staples Center. He said that the only way they'd refill their wallets would be by making it to the Finals.
The tactic worked. The Celtics earned their trip to the Finals, and they all got their money back, but based on their effort level and lack of execution and discipline, they may have all cashed in prematurely.