Tensions Run High at the Garden

1190922388It was about an hour before tip-off last night and you could feel the electricity in the room. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was about to start and all eyes were on me.

“Celtics in 5,” I said repeating my pick from earlier in the day to my colleague from Slam magazine. Looks of disgust flashed around the table. “Really,” said another Slam guy. It wasn’t a question. Hey, I didn’t know the rest of my dining companions included TV types from Cleveland and part of the Cavs PR team, but so it goes.

My reasoning is solid, my pick is well-thought out, but nowhere in my mind did I account for the following scenario: LeBron James will shoot 2-for-18, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will combine to do the same, but the Celtics will pull it out because Sam Cassell makes every shot in sight and Mike Brown will outcoach himself. But, so it goes.

After the jump, three more things from last night’s Game 1.

1. For a guy who doesn’t (pick one: elevate, step up, take over) in the fourth quarter, Kevin Garnett was pretty damn awesome in the final 12 minutes. Actually he was great for the entire time he was on the court, and that’s the “problem” with KG. His game is not based on scoring points, per se. He rebounds, he defends, and he makes sure everyone is in the right place, and he can also get you 20-25 points a night.

That’s his “curse,” but then he has games like last night when he carried the Celtics throughout the second half, and made three beyond-huge shots that either put the Celtics in the lead or tied the game. The last one came against Joe Smith, when he took him into the post and rolled right off him for a layup. Which brings us to…

2. The only people under more scrutiny than the players this time of year are the coaches, and Cavs coach Mike Brown committed a sin of aggression last night when he put Smith in for offense and replaced Ben Wallace, the only guy with a chance of guarding Garnett. The Cavs missed, the Celtics didn’t call timeout and KG got Smith on the low block for the decisive score. It happens.

On the other side, Doc Rivers deserves a lot of credit this morning. He’s taken his shots, justifiably so at times, but last night he pushed all the right buttons. Doc left Pierce on the bench for a long stretch of the fourth quarter to let James Posey do his thing on King James. He also made a very wise move late in the game when he inserted Rajon Rondo for two possessions. Rondo didn’t have it, and Cassell went back in, which brings us to…

3. So, this why Sam I Am is here. The only thing Cassell didn’t do down the stretch was the “I have Big Balls” dance, which was a shame because the fans wanted to see that as much as they wanted Gino. Doc explained his point guard rotation thusly: When they go to Garnett in the post he wants Cassell in the game to hang on the perimeter with Allen and Pierce. If they double KG, one of those three will get an open look, or Kendrick Perkins, stationed on the opposite block will get a dunk. So, there you go.

In any series there will likely be a blowout on each side and a fluke game when someone steals a win. That was last night, and yes, I still like my pick.