The Boston Celtics evened their series with the Los Angeles Lakers after a 103-94 victory on Sunday night, courtesy of a dominant performance from their backcourt.
Highlighted by Ray Allen’s endless three-point parade and Rajon Rondo’s triple double, the Celtics’ starting guards combined for 51 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists and connected on 9-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc. While the Celtics were able to escape Los Angeles with a 1-1 series split, concern has to be brewing in Beantown.
Maybe even more impressive than the performance of Boston’s backcourt was the play of the Lakers’ frontcourt in the form of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Los Angeles’ twin towers dominated for the second game in a row, tag teaming for a 46-point, 13-block effort. Most troubling for Boston is that the matchup between Gasol and Kevin Garnett has been largely one-sided so far. Gasol exposed Garnett in both games at the Staples Center, going off for 48 points, 22 rebounds, nine blocks and six assists compared to Garnett’s combined 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
There was a point in time when Garnett’s two-game total would’ve been generated in just one game but that time seems ages ago at this point. Garnett’s game two effort of six points and six rebounds was badly overshadowed by Gasol’s 25-point, eight-rebound and six-block display. Even Bynum added 21 points and controlled the Celtics’ half court offense for much of the night with seven blocks. Bynum’s presence has been in full effect in both games so far but his showing in game two was nothing short of brilliant.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that if Boston is going to win this series, Rondo, Allen and Paul Pierce are going to have to lead the charge. Although Pierce struggled on Sunday night, Ron Artest has yet to outplay him so far in the series.
And Pierce hasn’t been completely locked down by the defensive specialist like most anticipated he would. Allen’s a great shooter but his perfect precision shouldn’t be expected to continue. And Boston head coach Doc Rivers could have a crisis developing with Garnett’s sudden slump and reserve forward Rasheed Wallace’s inspired play.
Rivers could’ve easily played Wallace in favor of Garnett down the stretch of game two and probably would’ve avoided much criticism. Garnett had been a walking corpse until the final period before rewarding Rivers with a strong finish and helping the Celtics coach avoid a crucial decision for another night at least.
One of Boston’s best traits during their three-year run has been their collective selflessness. The Celtics have no problem taking advantage of whatever matchup is working in their favor. They don’t force-feed a bad matchup for the sake of getting a guy on the stat sheet – that’s not their game. The ability to attack with either their frontcourt or backcourt is one of the luxuries that the team has enjoyed in eight of the 10 playoff series they’ve been in since ’08.
The few times that the Celtics didn’t have that luxury were against Orlando in the ’09 semifinals and now. Boston lost that series against Orlando as their starting power forward/center combo of Perkins and Glen Davis (who was subbing in for an absent Garnett) was upstaged by the Magic’s Rashard Lewis/Dwight Howard combination as Orlando won the last two games of the series to upset Boston. The Celtics frontcourt has been outplayed again so far in this series but they have a 1-1 split to show for it. But Boston also led Orlando, 3-2, before eventually succumbing to the Magic’s matchup advantage. If the Celtics’ starting bigs don’t play light years better in Boston, a similar fate could be in store.