If Game 1 is any indication, we’re in for a wild ride in Round Two with the Philadelphia 76ers. The one-point win probably wouldn’t have happened had the Sixers avoided implosion down the stretch. But it is what it is and we’ll take it, because the name of NBA Playoffs is survive and advance. Each team tries to somehow find a way, and on Saturday night it was Kevin Garnett and the Celtics who made the most of the opportunities thrown their way.
There are many keys and subtle nuances involved in winning NBA playoff games. When teams play a seven-game series, adjustment between games is paramount. It’s a chess match played out on a basketball court, and now the fun begins. What will Doug Collins do to counter the outstanding play of Rajon Rondo? Will he continue to sag off, or will he continue to apply more pressure now that Rondo has discovered an outside shot? How will Doc Rivers slow down Evan Turner, who had a 16-10 double-double in the opener? How does Collins handle a suddenly resurgent Garnett, who is playing his best basketball since going down with the knee injury during the 2008-09 season?
NBA playoff basketball is also about match-ups, and a key confrontation is brewing between Paul Pierce and Andre Iguodala, the Sixers talented small forward. Iguodala got the better of the match-up in Game 1 by virtue of a better shooting night, but the statistics were eerily close. Pierce finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in 40 minutes of action, while Iguodala went 19-6-6 while logging 41 minutes.
As this series goes on, the defensive job that Pierce is able to do on Iguodala may very well determine the winner. Pierce is still lugging that balky left knee around, so there is plenty cause for concern. Iguodala is a supremely talented basketball player, and was a key to the Sixers’ defeat of the Bulls in the opening round. He’s plenty athletic, has great range, and can finish at the rim. Fortunately for Boston, Iguodala’s shot selection can at times come into question. Such was the case on Saturday night. Shots too early in the clock, with the wrong numbers underneath the basket, with serious contests courtesy of our Celtics’ defense…these are the things that played into our hands in Game 1 and helped us steal the opener. Pierce knows he’ll need to slow Iguodala in Game 2 for the Celtics to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. And Iguodala knows that Pierce is always dangerous, regardless of what the scouting report says about his injuries.
It should be a great match-up to follow when play resumes on Monday. It won’t all be about Pierce and Iguodala, there are too many other talented players on the court, but both men know they’re faced with a huge assignment in trying to stop the other.