By Gethin Coolbaugh
It’s midnight on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena, and the Celtics are making their way back to the hotel after a disheartening 101-93 loss to the Cavaliers in Game One. Feelings of frustration, shock and disappointment fill the locker room.
Fast forward to Monday at the same time. Doc Rivers and the Celtics file out of Quicken Loans Arena with feelings of pride, accomplishment and a new-found sense of determination following a 104-86 win that evened the series at one.
So what changed in two days?
Monday night’s version of the Celtics had a spring in its step, and played with an intensity and passion that was nowhere to be found on Saturday night.
Saturday’s version, on the other hand, featured a team that played like, well, a bunch of thirty year old veterans who were complacent with just being there, and no further.
One version was the one that Celtics fans expected to see all season, and the other was the version that they saw this year.
There are several notable differences between Saturday’s losing squad and Monday night’s victorious one, the first of which is the performance of the role players.
Most notably, Rasheed Wallace. After totaling a discouraging two points and two rebounds in just over 13 minutes in Game One, Wallace played like the player who had logged 159 playoff games prior to last night, amassing 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Wallace even led all scorers with 13 at halftime.
It would appear that Wallace’s performance was a response to coach Doc Rivers’ comments pointed at Sheed, saying that he has to play better, period.
But Wallace’s efforts alone wasn’t the reason that Boston is now tied 1-1 with Cleveland in its best of seven series, instead of being down 0-2.
Rajon Rondo had just as much to do with the Celtics version 2.0 as Wallace did. Rondo chipped in 13 points and set a franchise playoff record with 19 assists. Better yet, he already had 19 assists after three quarters.
It’s clear that, similar to the Celtics (or anyone, for that matter) having an answer for LeBron James, the Cavaliers don’t have an answer for Rondo. He’s the X factor in the series, leading the charge with his passing and slashing ability.
As I mentioned in my Celtics Journal prior to last night’s win, Rondo’s play in the first game of this series reminded me of that of Paul Pierce circa-2002 in the Celtics mediocre days. Pierce just had a knack for barreling to the basket and getting the call, and then more importantly, hitting the free throws.
Rondo has done both very effectively in the first two games, driving to the basket at will. But it hasn’t come without consequence, as Rondo is no doubt covered with bruises as we head back to Boston for Game Three.
After all, when you throw yourself at the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Zydrunas Illgauskus for 40 minutes consecutively every game, he’s going to pay the price. Unfortunately, the price for Rondo is that he will be innefective for the remainder of the playoffs should the Celtics advance.
But that doesn’t matter. If you need to play a relentless physical game night in and night out to put yourself past Cleveland, you do it. We’ll just let the cards fall as they do if we reach the next round.
Many were quick to put the full blame on LeBron James for last night’s loss. After receiving his second consecutive MVP award (the 10th player ever to do so), James was average in Game Two, scoring just 24 points with seven rebounds and five assists.
The numbers alone aren’t bad, but when you’re clearly the best player on the court, the brunt of the blame will be on you when your team doesn’t win.
Just ask Paul Pierce. Before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived, it was Pierce’s show. Any wins, losses or poor performances rode on him. It can be rather tiring and frustrating for any player after a while.
But perhaps the biggest turnaround from Game One to Game Two was the performances of Cleveland’s role players.
Mo Williams scored 20, and both Shaquille O’Neal and J.J. Hickson had 11 in Cleveland’s opening game victory. But they were nowhere to be foun in Game Two, as Williams (2 points) and O’Neal (9 points) were virtually silent all night long.
The Cavaliers did have a solid performance from Antawn Jamison, who scored 16, but he alone wasn’t able to pick up the slack of the entire team.
Only LeBron can do that, and he didn’t.
So much like the entire regular season, we’re left wondering what in the world we will witness come Friday night at TD Garden as the Celtics and Cavaliers spar in Game Three of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
It makes for exciting basketball, quite honestly. But as a fan of a team, you’d rather know what you’re going to get out of a team then simply guessing.
One might think that home court advantage will play a role. But when you lose to the Nets at home, nothing should be taken for granted.
Maybe the Garden crowd can get the C’s juices flowing? Hopefully there’s a few passionate fans left that aren’t Bruins fans lingering around.
There’s only one thing that’s certain about Friday: nothing’s certain. If Boston plays like they did in Game Two, then Boston will have a pivotal 2-1 advantage in the series. If they revert to regular-season form, then the upper hand goes to Cleveland.
I’d like to say that the Celtics are going to use their new found momentum to steam-roll Cleveland, but there’s nothing to base that stance on.
We won’t know for sure until midnight on Friday.
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Associate Editor of Boston Sports U18. He can be reached at 774-279-1995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit Gethin Coolbaugh’s official website and follow Gethin Coolbaugh on Twitter.