Say what you will about the Celtics' iffy performance in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, but a win is a win. The Magic, Spurs and Lakers all lost home Game 1s over the weekend to open the postseason, but the C's record is still squeaky clean. They're up 1-0 on the Knickerbockers.
The Celtics haven't been perfect, but so far their results are.
Can the C's continue their winning ways against the Knicks? Game 2 is Tuesday at the TD Garden, and then they hit the road for Games 3 and 4 in the Big Apple.
Let's delve into seven thoughts on the C's first round series.
1. The Celtics won Game 1 on Sunday night, but not without a lot of help from the officials. They had two very, very borderline calls go their way in the final minute — the offensive foul by Carmelo Anthony on Paul Pierce with 21 seconds left to turn the ball over, and the non-call on the hard, possibly-moving pick Kevin Garnett set on Toney Douglas before Ray Allen's 3. If either one of those calls goes in the other direction, the C's don't stand a chance. They needed lightning to strike twice, and it did. They can't count on the refs again.
2. Allen's game-winning shot with 11 seconds left was the highlight of the night for the Celtics, but even more encouraging was the totality of Ray's night. The Celtics had struggled for over a month to get him going — until Sunday, the C's shooting guard hadn't scored more than 20 points in a game since March 9. He finished with 24 in Game 1 on 9-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3. The C's were 15-3 this season when Ray finished with over 20 and 41-23 when he didn't. His scoring is a definite game-changer.
3. You know it's a crazy ballgame when Rajon Rondo nearly puts up a triple-double, and no one notices. Rondo jumped off the stat sheet Sunday night with 10 points, nine assists and nine rebounds, but his performance was overshadowed by the solid play of the Big Three, the emergence of Jermaine O'Neal and the game-winning shot from Allen. The thing is, Rondo's play wasn't even that great — he still looked tentative at times, hanging around the perimeter rather than attacking the hoop. We're still waiting for the C's young leader to really take over.
4. In the wake of O'Neal's 12-point, four-block performance, Doc Rivers was asked if the C's were doing fine without Kendrick Perkins. His answer: "I think our team's fine, but outside, it?s going to keep getting talked about. Perk will probably have 20 and 20 in his game tonight, and it?ll start all over again." After a brief pause, Rivers added, "Actually, I hope he does. It would be great for him." It was a subtly sweet moment as the C's coach admitted he still had a soft spot for his departed big man. (For the record, Perk finished with four points and five boards in the Thunder-Nuggets game, a far cry from 20 and 20.)
5. The other side effect of Jermaine's big performance — it indicates that the Celtics have become even less reliant on Nenad Krstic than ever before. J.O. played 22 minutes as the C's starting center and was fantastic; Glen Davis played 25 off the bench. Krstic hardly played at all, seeing only a five-minute stretch at the start of the second quarter. Here's a bold prediction: If and when Shaquille O'Neal returns to the Celtics in these playoffs, Krstic will be warming the bench. He's been good in flashes, but the C's have better options.
6. Surprise! The Knicks actually played a little bit of defense in Game 1. The obvious knock on Mike D'Antoni's club going in was its apathy on the defensive end, but it didn't show it Sunday. Carmelo Anthony and Landry Fields were huge on the wings, cracking down on mid-range jumpers. Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis all shot poorly as a result. Over the course of the regular season, the Knicks averaged 110.1 points per 100 possessions, ninth in the NBA; they gave up only 87 in 83 possessions against the Celtics. Maybe it's just a matter of effort.
7. Is it just a cliche that experience wins ballgames in the NBA playoffs, or is there really some truth to it? We're about to find out, that's for sure. Chauncey Billups is likely to miss Game 2 against the Celtics on Tuesday night, and with him, the Knicks lose a huge chunk of their postseason experience. The veteran point guard had played 139 playoff games in his career going into Sunday; that's more than the rest of the starting five combined. Here are the career totals for everyone else who played Sunday: 52 for Amare Stoudemire, 45 for Melo, 35 for Anthony Carter, 26 for Ronny Turiaf, 16 for Jared Jeffries, four for Bill Walker, and a big fat goose egg for Douglas, Fields and Shawne Williams.
The playoffs are a whole different animal, they always say. The Knicks are barely even housebroken.