NEW YORK – The final score of Game 1 of the first round series between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics was 85-78. So you’ll have to excuse these teams if they both feel like they can play better in Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
Thoughts of improvement start with the Celtics, and with the 21 turnovers they committed on Saturday. Smarter execution, like not trying to make post entry passes from 25 feet away, will at least get them more shots at the basket.
Of course, they still have to make those shots. And the onus is on reserve guards Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to give the Celtics something off the bench. The trio shot 0-for-7 in Game 1 and, more important, was an incredibly awful minus-15 in the six minutes all three were on the floor together.
“They missed wide-open shots,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday, adding that he wouldn’t hesitate to go back to that three-guard unit again. “That group, when they’re on the floor, they have to produce offensively. They’re not going to ever be a great defensive group, and they didn’t do that. And it hurt us.”
Turnovers and missed shots were often a result of bad spacing. The same mismatches and double-teams that the Celtics took advantage of in the first half were there in the second, but poor spacing and execution made it more difficult to get good shots out of those situations.
The Celtics held their largest lead (seven points) late in the third quarter, but really set a bad precedent at the start of the half when Jeff Green – who was the star of the first half – took two contested mid-range shots early in the shot clock.
Though Game 1 was the lowest scoring game of the playoffs thus far, Carmelo Anthony‘s 36 points were the most any individual has scored this postseason. But Boston defended Anthony about as well as you can, making him take 29 shots to get those 36 points. In five games against the Celtics this season, Anthony has shot 37.1 percent and scored 137 points on 132 shots from the field.
Still, Doc Rivers believes there’s room for improvement in regard to Anthony’s scoring as well. And it’s more about his team limiting its own mistakes than defending Anthony differently.
The Celtics defended Anthony very well in the Knicks’ half-court offense, but got in trouble in transition and off loose balls…
Carmelo Anthony’s offense, Game 1
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
Anthony shot just 6-for-19 in half-court situations, and the Celtics even contested a few of those makes – including the 20-foot baseline dagger with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter. But Boston knows it can’t let Anthony loose when its defense isn’t set up.
Two of Anthony’s threes came when he brought the ball up on a secondary break, got an early high screen from Tyson Chandler, and walked into a open shot. A third came off a deflection that the Celtics couldn’t corral. And the fourth came as a trailer on a fast break. He had two other buckets (in the first quarter) when he brought the ball up himself and immediately looked for his shots.
The league’s leading scorer will probably shoot better in half-court situations on Tuesday, but the Celtics can prevent a major scoring barrage by just being more careful and aware.
“Every time we made a mistake, an offensive rebound, a turnover, he scored,” Rivers said. “And those were his easy baskets. We have to take those away.”
Like the Celtics, the Knicks know they can do better offensively. They ranked third in offensive efficiency this season and scored an incredible 115 points per 100 possessions over their final 18 games. But on Saturday, they were held to just 85 points on 88 possessions.
It’s easy to say that the ball needs to move better and that the Knicks should have more than 13 assists. Yes, there was too much iso-ball in Game 1, but most of it was a result of the Celtics’ defense taking away New York’s initial actions. And the Knicks are fortunate to have two players – Anthony and J.R. Smith – who can save a broken possession by getting a decent shot up in the final seconds of the shot clock.
Still, the Knicks can improve offensively by just getting up the floor quicker. The Celtics scored on just 35 of their 89 possessions on Saturday, but the Knicks had just seven fast break points. And as noted above, Anthony got his best looks in transition, not necessarily on fast breaks, but when he took advantage of a defense that wasn’t yet set.