- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Boston Celtics didn't arrive in Los Angeles looking for a split. Past history suggests this is a greedy team that would have been perfectly fine with doing to the Lakers what it did to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals and steal two games on their home court.
It didn't happen. Los Angeles stomped Boston in Game 1, so now Boston reshapes its goals and aims to steal a single win before the series shifts to the Hub for three games.
In order to earn that split, here's five things the Celtics need to focus on in Game 2 (ABC, 9 p.m.):
It sounds foolishly simple, but the Celtics' success is dictated by its ability to get defensive stops, as those defensive stands fuel the offense by putting the team in transition. When Boston is unable to generate multiple stops, the team often gets frustrated, then settles for poor perimeter shots in half-court sets, particularly as L.A. loads up in the lane with its tall bodies.
"We have to get stops to push the pace, and we didn't do that very well [in Game 1]," said Rivers. "Again, they had 84 points after three quarters, and so we have not proven that we can stop them yet, and we have to do that. I mean, let's be honest, if you're going to be in the 100s every game, that's not good for us."
Indeed, the Lakers are 10-2 this postseason when they cross the century mark, while the Celtics are 0-5 when allowing an opponent to reach triple figures.
What's more, the Lakers have scored at least 100 points in each of their last 11 games, the longest such streak by an NBA team in one playoff year since the Phoenix Suns posted 12 straight in 2005. The Lakers also had a 12-game streak in the 1986 playoffs.
"We've got to get stops," said Rivers. "[Celtics point guard Rajon] Rondo is not going to get going if we don't get stops. Our offense is directly connected to our defense. Every team is for the most part if you want to run. If we're going to take the ball out of bounds, if they're going to shoot free throws, they're going to get second shots, Rondo is not going to be in the open court. If we can get multiple stops, we can get multiple runs. So we've got to get stops."
Rondo suggested the team needs to get the ball inbounds faster after makes instead of lamenting the lack of a defensive stop and letting the Lakers jog back to set up shop in their half-court set.
"Sometimes it may be discouraging when you take it out of the net four or five times in a row, so it may not come out as fast as I would like to or the team would like to, to set the pace," said Rondo, who suggested the Celtics might even want to assign a single player the duties of getting the ball back in play. "But that's just how the game goes."
Added Celtics captain Paul Pierce, leading to our second key to success, "When you don't get stops, that means he's taking the ball out every time, and it doesn't allow Rondo to get out there and use his speed in transition for fast breaks. And every time [the Celtics] got stops, [offensive] rebounds was another big Achilles heel for us. So, it's important to do a better job on rebounds after each shot, getting the ball in his hands so his speed and play-making ability can become a factor in Game 2."
By now you're well aware of the Lakers' dominance on the glass in Thursday's Game 1: Los Angeles finishing with a 42-31 advantage that felt more like a 442-31 advantage.
It's easy to point to the Celtics' bigs for the discrepancy. Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis combined for 14 rebounds. Heck, Pau Gasol collected a game-high 14 rebounds himself, including a staggering eight offensive caroms that matched the team total for Boston.
The Celtics are giving up height up front and the key for their bigs might simply be taking better position and boxing out their man. Then Boston can put an emphasis on guards falling back to crash the glass, which we saw Thursday as Pierce hauled in a team-high nine caroms, while Rondo grabbed six more.
But, for a team that's emphasized the 50/50 ball for most of the season, the Celtics can't lose the battle for any available carom.
"[The 50/50 balls] are keys on the road," said Rivers. "Those are extra possessions for you. It's tougher to win on the road. It is been our formula, always win the 50/50 game, but especially on the road. We've rarely lost a 50/50 game on the road in the playoffs, and to get crushed like we did in that category, you know, and we just didn't play well on top of that, it means you can't win that game."
And what goes into winning the 50/50 balls? That's topic No. 3…
Will the Thrill
Talking about offensive rebounding after Game 1, Glen Davis suggested it all comes down to will -- the desire to get the ball more than your opponent. Take away all the physical breakdowns Boston endured, and the most frustrating aspect of the Game 1 loss might have been that the Lakers proved they wanted it more than Boston.
"Passion, that's what you want to call it?" said Davis. "I would say energy. I think the Finals are the Finals and it's a different level of play. We've just got to bring our level of play up. I feel like our passion is there; we want to win. We know the consequences of this game. We know the consequences of every game, even if we don't bring it."
Like most teams, Boston's "will" level seems higher when the team isn't constantly playing from behind. But it has to have that "will" from the onset to prevent digging an early hole.
"I know our execution is going to be there, I know the defensive scheme is going to be there," said Pierce. "But it's just about how hard and how willing you are to sacrifice your body to go out and do it for 48 minutes. We haven't changed too much throughout the whole year, throughout the playoffs, about the way we play and about the way we defend. So we've just got to go out there a little bit faster and a little bit harder."
But not too much harder, or else key No. 4 might come into play, again...
The Celtics are no stranger to foul trouble this postseason, particularly after ultra-physical series against the Cavaliers and Magic. But Boston was particularly hindered Thursday by three early fouls to Ray Allen, which ultimately limited him to 27 minutes overall (and that was with playing a large stretch with five fouls).
"Obviously, Ray is huge in everything we do, both sides of the ball," said Pierce. "So when you take one of your premier players out of the game, it does have an effect when you don't have him out there guarding Kobe, like he has been doing over the past years, or just his experience out there offensively. It hurts your chemistry, especially early, because you're not used to Ray getting into foul trouble.
"That hasn't been the characteristics of his game, getting into foul trouble too many times throughout the season. So it does hurt. But that's part of the game and that's going to happen, and other guys got to be able to come out there and step up."
Allen finished with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting and admitted it was a frustrating evening. Just by not being on the floor, he made it easier on the Lakers' defense, because they didn't have to chase him off screens.
Meanwhile, the Lakers thrived offensively at the sight of Michael Finley, whose defense was so atrocious that Nate Robinson got additional time on the floor, even in a set with Rondo.
Needless to say, the Celtics need Allen on the court this series.
"For sure, it was frustrating," said Allen. "I've anticipated this moment since the last time we were here. So you figure, last year, losing in the second round, wanting to get back here, thinking about the summertime and then playing the whole season and having a great playoffs, playoffs as a team. And then getting into the game we waited six or seven days. So it wasn't my intention.
"But I always have faith in my teammates, knowing they'll get the job done when they get out on the floor. I knew a long time ago, you get in foul trouble, minutes get added onto the game, and you just have to find a way to have an impact."
Let's see what a rested (and vengeful) Allen can do if he avoids foul trouble in Game 2.
All these (small) things I've done
It's easy to get caught up in the key numbers from the box score, but the Celtics know it's the little things that matter most.
"When I go into halftime, the first thing I look at is deflections, turnovers and the other team's field goal percentage," said Pierce. "When you see those numbers, I look and see if we got a certain number of deflections, maybe it's 10, 12, 15 deflections at the half or the other team shooting under 40 percent. When I see that type of stat I know we're doing well. When I don't, for instance [in Game 1], and I see them shooting 50 percent, and we had no second-chance points and we gave up some second-chance points and stuff like that, no fast breaks, I know we're in for a long night."
The Celtics endured only their third game of the year without a second-chance point in Thursday's loss. Sprinkle in Los Angeles' domination on the glass and in the 50/50 game, and you had all the makings for a blowout -- which is exactly what the game was with the Lakers up 20 after three frames.
"Rebounding, 50/50, second-chance points," said Garnett. "All those things make up, to me, when I think of the intangibles or just small detail things that make up the outcome of a game what it is. I think of those things."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Rebounding, second-chance points, extra effort will help Celtics turn it around.