It may not have started off well, but it ended just fine as the Celtics beat their rival Cavaliers in Cleveland to start the season. The Cavs were 39-2 at home last season and will start this season 0-1 at the Q. Everyone had to know that the great start from Cleveland was going to happen and the question was whether or not the Celtics could weather the storm. They did that and much more as they went from down seven after one quarter to up six at the half.
The Celtics never relinquished the lead at all in the second half. It was comfortable for most of the third quarter, but when it got tight in the fourth, the Celtics just seemed to make buckets and get stops when it was needed most. LeBron James had a good game (38 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks) but he didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to get his team in a position to win. He had some crucial turnovers that really kept the momentum from swinging in Cleveland’s favor.
The MVP of the game has to go to The Truth, Paul Pierce. He paced the Celtics’ scoring in the first half with 13 points, but was held scoreless in the third quarter. But tonight, like any other night, Paul was Mr. Fourth Quarter. No matter how cold he gets at any point of the game, there is still very few players in the entire league who I would want to have the ball in the final quarter. He finished the fourth quarter with ten points, finishing the game with 23 and knocking down three huge buckets while dishing out a beautiful assist to Kendrick Perkins for an and-one finish under the rim.
Garnett played 33 minutes in his first serious game action since his knee injury and looked good, but still rusty. He finished with 13 points, ten rebounds and three block shots, but he missed a dunk that he would finish 98 out of a hundred times. His knee didn’t look to bother him much and he just needs time to strengthen it and get back into game shape.
Ray Allen got hot in the second quarter along with Paul Pierce to spark a huge Celtics run, but cooled off considerably in the second half and finished with 16 points on five of 16 shooting. Rajon Rondo played a good game. He knocked down a couple jumpers and got to the rim for a bucket or two. He did get blocked badly by LeBron in the first quarter on a layup he should have just sprinted down the floor instead and that seemed to deter him from getting to the rim from then on. He finished the game with eight points, six boards, three steals and a game-high ten assists.
The three newcomers, I thought, played very well as a group. Rasheed Wallace led all bench players with 12 points on four of nine shooting including three of six from deep. His defense was as advertised, but he seemed very trigger happy. He took a couple bad shots early in the game and he may just have been anxious to get his Boston career off to a good start, but he seemed to settle down and hit a few big buckets for us. Marquis Daniels looked very smooth out there. He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but his penetration with and without the ball got others some good looks. He slashed to the rim, posted up once or twice and hit a big three from the corner, too. Shelden Williams played as I thought he would. His defense was good, as was to be expected, and grabbed three boards. He finished with four points, all on free throws, and we shouldn’t expect much more from him on that front.
To me, the unsung hero award goes to Kendrick Perkins. Looking at the box score does him no justice. He finished with nine points, one rebound and one blocked shot, but his impact was so much more than that. It was clear as day that his jumper from the short corner will be there for him all game off of penetration by Rondo, Pierce and Garnett. He was knocking it down and had a couple rattle in and out, so that is a great part of his game that will be utilized accordingly. He may have only had one rebound, but he kept Shaquille O’Neal, Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskus from getting offensive rebounds. Garnett, Pierce and Rondo got a lot of their rebounds off of Perkins’ defense and box outs.
Tonight was a great way to open the season. Those who were on the floor for the Celtics looked healthy. The defense was great, holding the Cavs to 41% shooting. TNT had a graphic that showed the plus/minus in three categories: bench points, three-point shooting and fast-break points. In all three categories, the Celtics heavily dominated the Cavs. If we continue to do that, we should win a lot of games going away. We can happy that the season has started the way it is, but let’s not get satisfied yet because we have a pesky Charlotte Bobcat team coming to town tomorrow night. This is the same Bobcat team that ALWAYS seems to steal two games from us each season. Let’s hope we can put them down tomorrow in front of a raucous home crowd.