The odds looked good for Boston, providing that at least one of two things happened. The Celtics played good defense, or the Celtics played good offense. The Knicks no longer had that dominating defensive presense blocking the hoop at both ends. Latrell Spreewell got no closer than the bench. If the C's hadn't been on a 2 game bleah streak, this would have been a lock in the W column before tipoff.
The first couple of minutes made me want to scream. Allan Houston of the Knicks started off hot, as the Good Guys were cold on the first few shots. It was nightmarishly familiar. But then, the Celtics started to -- um, drat, it's been so long since it happened, I can't remember what it's called-- oh, yeah, REBOUNDING!!
It was a fast-paced, high-scoring first quarter, with the offense often overwhelming the defense on both sides. What kept the Celtics ahead--and was ultimately responsible for their win--was free throws. The C's went to the line early and often each quarter. I liked the way the Celtics moved in the first quarter, moving quickly, and destroying the Knicks on the defensive end with their rotation.
The Knicks, to their credit, kept making unbelieveable
shots, including one from Houston that looked like it would bounce off
the roof before dropping through the hoop. The Celtics nonetheless
continued to build a lead through the first quarter--largely by going to
the hoop frequently. The quarter ended as Shammond stole the ball, somehow
avoided getting called for an offensive foul, and slammed the pumpkin through
the hoop. That ensured the Celtics lead at 30-27 at the end of 1.
The second picked up where the first ended, as Boston worked the lead up as far as 14 points. Pierce was apparently over his shooting slup, en route to a 40+ point night. The Celtics defense was quite good for stretches, but the Knicks somehow eked out bastets often enough to keep from being blown out totally. Lee Nailon came in for New York and gave them an instant boost, getting the Knicks back in the game as the Celtics defense simply didn't pick him up at all on his first two shots. That was the start of some problems for Boston--there were some stretches when the defense simply didn't work, combined with the Knicks doing their thing. Houston had 19 points at the half, but Eric Williams was a big contributor for Boston with 15 points by the end of two. The half ended as the Celtics maintained their lead at 59-54.
Thus far, though the pace had slowed from the hectic first quarter, looked good. I was worried about New York getting back into the game, but felt that if the C's tightened up just a bit, that the Good Guys would still win. The C's were only outrebounded by three at the half, which was an improvement over previous games. Our team had the edge in paint points. The FG attempts were dead even--with New York shooting just a little better. The major difference was free throws--the C's were 18-23 (thank you, thank you, thank you, whoever made the C's practice free throws), while the Knicks were 3-3. We also had only 3 turnovers to 8 for New York. I know the stats don't quite reflect it, but the fact is, some of those made fg's for New York were REALLY lucky bounces.
The third began as the game slowed down--a lot. The slower pace helped the Knicks a lot as the C's weren't running on offense and the New York had all kinds of time to set their defense. The defense didn't look as sharp for Boston, as New York got better looks at the hoop and capitalized on that, erasing the Celtics lead and making a game of it.
The fact is, it made the game more exciting--if more nerve-racking. I think this was good for Boston, as it meant there was no opportunity to coast with a lead--neither was there a frenzy to come back from a double digit deficit.
As in the first half, the C's continued to the line and made the difference there. I can't stress that enough. Creating fouls and making free throws was the thing that offset the Knicks making weird baskets. The lead started to seesaw back and fourth, and more and more, it was the Paul Pierce Show, making amends for his last two games. New York is getting batter at drawing fouls on fakes, and worked their will a few times until the Celtics started planting their feet on the court.
The numerous fouls began to take it's toll on
New York, as their entire starting lineup was playing with either 4 or
5 fouls. This forced their coach to shuffle the lineup a few times.
That made the play of New York a little more ragged at times, but not enough
to disrupt their game too much. The quarter ended with the Knicks
clinging to a lead, 86-85.
The Fourth began even more slowly, as the Celtics categorically refused to run it up court most times. I was upset, as the Knicks had played last night--a few more runs and they might have been run right out of the building. New York played smart offense on the slower sets and kept pace with Boston throughout most of the quarter. Allan Houston was doing his own scoring explosion, nearly equalling the exhibition from Pierce, though he wasn't as effective in the fourth. Neither team could establish a clear lead until nearly the end of the game. I keep seeing flashes of explosive speed. If the C's could establish a running game as they say they want to, they could beat any defense in the NBA. But there was precious little of it tonight.
One of the good signs is tonight, when Eric Williams proved adept at scoring, he was not ignored, as the C's fed the ball to him near the end of the game, often sending him to the line. But even as the game wound down, neither team could get more then 2 points up. This changed when Pierce went to the line with 2:34 left, hitting both free throws to give the C's a 4 point lead.
This was the beginning of the end for New York. The Knicks couldn't rebound off Battie, and Pierce hit two shots from the spame place on the floor on consecutive possessions. By this time there was 1:13 left and the Knicks did something very puzzling after a 20 second timeout. After losing the ball out of bounds, they didn't foul, wasting precious time off the clock. The C's used up the shot clock, and New York took the ball with 36 seconds left in the game, down 6 points. Then, they called a timeout.
After the timeout, the Knicks scored in 5 seconds,
forcing Boston to a timeout, their lead reduced to 4. The C's took
it in from halfcourt, and the parade to the free throw line began.
Thankfully, it was a short parade, as the C's hit their free throws (YAY).
Delk picked off an errant New York pass, and tried to dribble out the clock
before a pointless Knick foul set up two more free throws. The game
ended as the Celtics pulled away at the very end to win it 117-107.
The Celtics played better than they have been, but only well enough to beat a depleted New York team. They needed a stellar night from Pierce, and an inordinate number of trips to the free throw line to win it. The defense played better in stretches, but still isn't where it needs to be overall. If the C's can put together solid offense with the kind of defense they had last season, they will win big. But right now, it's enough that they won one. Now, they have to not rest on that, working to improve still glaring problems on defense. Still, it shows that they've learned their most painful lessons from the last two games. I saw better rebounding, but they still need to do more on both ends. They'll have plenty of time to work on it before their next game on Wednesday, against the Chicago Bulls.
And that's the view from the doghouse.
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New York Knickerbockers