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"My name is Shaquille O'Neal and Paul Pierce is the muthaf'in' truth." Those words never rang truer than after Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals. I have been defending Paul Pierce for years as a big time player who can score at will and knock down big shots in the clutch but it seems like Pierce's greatness has been overshadowed by the mediocrity of the Celtics all these years.
Well, this year Pierce has had some defining moments in his career and people are starting to finally take notice of what a great player he is. First, there was the 41 points outburst in Game 7 against the Cavs, then there was his strong Game 6 performance in Detroit, and now we have Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
After starting off the third quarter strong with 8 points in the first minute and 13 seconds, Paul Pierce went down early in the third quarter clutching his knee and had to be taken to the locker room in a wheel chair. I thought for sure the Celtics were toast and the dream series we had all been waiting for would be tainted.
However, Paul Pierce ain't the muthaf'in' truth for nothing and he returned to the game late in the 3rd quarter and proceeded to hit two monster three point shots that put the Celtics in the lead for good. If the Celtics go on to win the NBA Finals, this most definitely will go down as Paul Pierce's defining moment.
Pierce finished the game with 22 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 4 from three, and 5 of 7 from the line. Definitely an efficient game for Pierce. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo chipped in to help out Pierce with the scoring load. Garnett was great in the first half, scoring 16 points but at one point in the second half he missed 9 straight shots. He still finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds despite his second half struggles. Ray Allen was solid enough for the Celtics to win and he finished with 19 points on 5 of 13 shooting but also surprisingly pulled down 8 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. Rondo had one of his better games offensively, scoring 15 points to go along with 7 assists and 5 rebounds.
For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant had a miserable shooting night and went only 9 of 26 from the floor, scoring 24 points. This is the type of game the Celtics defense wants to force Kobe into having. Anytime Kobe has more shot attempts than points there is a good chance the Lakers are not going to win. Now I'm not sure if Kobe was just off his game or if it was the Celtics defense that caused him to have a bad night. I do know that Paul Pierce played some great D on Kobe when he had the chance to guard him but we will have to wait and see how the rest of the series goes before it is certain that the Celtics defense is what gave Kobe problems.
The rest of the starting lineup actually played pretty well for the Lakers. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol both shot 6 of 11 from the floor and Derek Fisher was effective as well. Odom finished with 14 and 6 rebounds, while Gasol had 15 points, 8 boards, and 4 assists. Fisher chipped in with 15 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. The rest of the Lakers did not do much in this game though as Phil Jackson played 4 of his 5 starters for 39+ minutes.
The other factors going into this game were rebounding, the bench play, and the coaching matchup. Well, the Celtics won the first two and the third was a non-factor.
The Celtics dominated the glass by outrebounding the Lakers 46 to 33. This comes as no surprise because the Lakers have been outrebounded the whole playoffs, while at the same time the Celtics have been able to control the backboards. I would expect this to continue because the Lakers don't really have any big rebounders they can bring in off the bench, they are what they are and rebounding is not one of their strengths. Now maybe Phil Jackson can motivate Gasol and Odom to be more aggressive on the boards or maybe Kobe will have to chip in but other than that I expect the Lakers to keep getting beat on the glass.
While neither bench was very effective, the bench play overall was pretty even in this one. The Celtics bench outscored the Lakers bench 17 to 15 and outrebounded them 12 to 7. I would give the Celtics bench the edge in this game because Sam Cassell was probably the most effective bench player in the game, even though I felt Doc Rivers stayed with him a little too long. He did hit some big shots for the Celtics early on and finished with 8 points off the bench.
The coaching match-up was non-factor to me because I didn't really see Phil Jackson make any major adjustments in this game. Phil did pull Kobe at one point in the fourth quarter and went with some of his bench players for a stretch and they were effective but quite frankly I'm sure the Celtics didn't mind Kobe not being out there. I would expect more adjustments from Phil Jackson in Game 2 and it's possible he was just feeling out the Celtics in Game 1. I thought Doc Rivers did a good job with who he put out on the floor and having Cassell out there paid off for him tonight but we will see if that continues throughout the series because I have my doubts about Cassell continuing to be effective.
I expect Game 2 to be an absolute war between these two teams and if Game 1 is any indication, it looks as though this series is going to live up to all the hype. Kobe Bryant will have to play better in Game 2 and it will be interesting to see what adjustments Phil and Kobe make overall.
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