Coming into their first-round series with the Knicks, the Celtics wanted to steal one of the first two games at Madison Square Garden and flip home-court advantage. So while there was plenty to be concerned about in Boston after their 85-78 loss in Game 1, they are still in decent position headed into Game 2 on Tuesday night. New York, meanwhile, knows there is much to improve on if they want to take a commanding lead against their longtime Atlantic Division rivals.
Not much went right for the Celtics on Saturday. After racing out to a 53-49 halftime lead, their offense imploded in the second half, scoring only 25 points in the final two quarters. Their bench, ravaged by injury, was essentially nonexistent, combining for 4 points, all from free throws, on 0-of-7 shooting. And without Rajon Rondo, Boston's half-court execution went right out the window, with the Celtics racking up more turnovers (20) than assists (18), including several huge ones that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Yet, despite so many things going wrong, Boston still had a chance to pull out the win. While New York got several huge contributions from their bench, they got almost nothing from two of their starters -- Tyson Chandler and Chris Copeland. Nor was their half-court execution much better than the Celtics', with 13 assists and 13 turnovers on Saturday. The ball stuck in Carmelo Anthony's hands, as he put together the type of inefficient performance (36 points on 29 shots) that Doc Rivers can live with in this series.
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Odds: Knicks by 7
Three key questions about the game:
1) Will Carmelo play "hero ball"?
It's no coincidence that Carmelo Anthony's biggest play on Saturday was one of the few times all game that he passed the ball, as he found Kenyon Martin at the front of the rim in the final moments to seal the game. It was his only assist of the contest. While he only averaged 2.6 assists vs. 2.6 turnovers on the year, a ratio in line with his historical averages, Carmelo's ability to move the ball and make the "hockey assist" after he drew double teams was one of the keys to the Knicks' improved offense this season.
With J.R. Smith the only other New York player who can consistently get his own shot, the Knicks depend on Carmelo generating good shots not just for himself, but for his teammates. New York went only 9-of-25 from beyond the three-point line on Saturday, an indication that they weren't getting great looks from deep. When their long-range shots are falling, they can be nearly indefensible, but when they aren't, they can lose to anyone, especially a dangerous Boston team looking to even up the series.
2) Will the Celtics' bench show up?
If they're going to get back in the series, Boston will need a lot more from their supporting cast, particularly on the offensive end. Without Rondo on the floor, the Celtics offense can stagnate, especially when Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett isn't in the game. Pierce played 39 minutes on Saturday and Garnett played 37, and at their age, they have to get some rest during the game for them to be sharp in the final minutes.
As a result, Boston has to get more offensive punch from Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford, the only three Celtics reserves to get minutes in Game 1. The trio combined for 51 minutes, but they made almost no impact on the game, with a grand total of 4 points, 6 rebounds and 0 assists on 0-of-7 shooting. Without Rajon Rondo, all three will have to work harder for their points, but they've got to be able to generate some offense in their time on the floor if the Celtics are going to be able to steal a game at Madison Square Garden.
3) What will Tyson Chandler bring to the table?
Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, had a minimal impact in Game 1. After playing in only four of the Knicks' last 20 regular-season games while dealing with a variety of injuries, Chandler was a step slow, with 0 points, 5 rebounds and 0 blocks in 20 minutes of action. He didn't attempt a single field goal and he was unable to play the type of excellent back-line defense he's given the Knicks for most of his two seasons in New York.
Mike Woodson's team was saved by the unexpectedly strong play of Kenyon Martin off the bench, but their ability to make a deep playoff run will depend in large part on Chandler. He has a combination of size and athleticism unmatched by anyone on the Knicks roster and his ability to roll to the rim on the pick-and-roll is a huge part of their offense. Look for the Knicks to try to involve Chandler early in the offense on Tuesday, unless he isn't healthy enough for a bigger role, which would be one of the big storylines in this series going forward.