Game 1 of this series was business as usual for the Boston Celtics, who won at home by playing stingy half-court defense and with their two big guns doing most of the scoring. Boston looked like the well-rested team, as its team defense and rotations were quick and aggressive.
They sent the Pistons a message on the first possession that let Detroit know it was no longer playing the Orlando Magic: Rajon Rondo fought and fronted Richard Hamilton, refusing to be posted up. Rasheed Wallace got the same message from Kevin Garnett a few possessions later when KG bounced Rasheed off his stride and out of the lane. Even Chauncey Billups was unable to maintain his position in the post against the Celtics' guards.
Richard Hamilton got no easy baskets in the half court because the Celtics guards were physical with him, forcing him to catch the ball further out than he likes when coming off screens. When Rip did make his patented curl move to the elbow, the Celtics' bigs hedged toward him to prevent the drive, forcing the pass back to the screener, and the weakside rotation was right there to prevent an easy shot.
The Pistons got very little dribble penetration from Billups, who was clearly not in rhythm and still bothered by his lingering hamstring injury. Without Billups getting into the lane to create, Detroit's offense turned into isolations and contested one-on-one action late in the shot clock. Look for a more aggressive attack off the dribble from Billups in Game 2 if the hamstring is not an issue.
In Game 2 watch for Detroit to also go to more high ball-screen action with Billups and Rasheed -- a play that was successful early in Game 1. This action creates a rotation problem for the Celtics because Garnett and Kendrick Perkins tend to stay close to Wallace to prevent the pick-and-pop 3-pointer. This also takes a physical toll on Rondo, as he must take more hits from the Pistons' big men.
Wallace must hold the screen longer: He slipped the screen too early a couple of times and allowed KG to just chase him without any screening action for Billups. The slip is only effective when the attention focuses on the ball handler.
If Boston continues to be concerned with Rasheed on this high-screen action in Game 2, Billups should be able to get into the paint consistently. As Boston adjusts, Wallace will get more open looks.
Wallace's offensive production may go as Chauncey goes -- potentially a big concern for Detroit in Game 2 if Billups' injury continues to be an issue, or if his timing and decision making continue to be out of sync. Billups passed up some shots he normally takes, and he seemed indecisive on some drives. Whether that was more a product of the injury or the time off will be better determined in Game 2.
Expect the Pistons in Game 2 to also work more of the pinch-post action, with Tayshaun Prince feeding the elbow post man from the wing and then cutting for the handoff or the back screen. This move makes Paul Pierce defend the screening actions, and allows Prince to go to his post-up game if he is funneled toward the corner on the cut.
Offensively in Game 1, the Celtics picked up right where they left off against Cleveland, with pick-and-pop action for Pierce and Garnett. Detroit played a soft double or stayed with the hedge for an extra dribble, allowing Garnett to step to the open area for the mid-range jump shot. The Pistons' rotations were late or never came in Game 1.
Look for Detroit to occasionally switch on this action in Game 2, with Prince going with Garnett and Wallace or Antonio McDyess picking up Pierce. This gives Pierce the advantage, but the Pistons can't just allow Garnett to get wide-open looks. They will send another defender at Pierce -- especially when he starts to drive -- and look for them to chase him from behind to get a steal on his spin move, as they did once in Game 1.
Expect the Pistons to also force Pierce away from the screen to the baseline. Detroit did this at times in Game 1, but got no rotation to prevent Pierce from driving into the open area.
With better weakside rotation, Garnett's defender can stay home and Pierce must make the play on his own.
With Rasheed looking for shot blocks from the weak side, Garnett found he could wait for Wallace to start his rotation and then just cut to the open area -- usually at about 18-20 feet at the elbow extended. Wallace can't cover this much ground to get back to KG in time, so look for the Pistons to change their rotations to get a defender to KG much quicker. Look for Garnett to continue to seek out these open shooting spots in Game 2.
Detroit also got no aggressiveness from their 4s and 5s on the Celtics' side pick-and-roll action, as Boston got into the lane consistently off the dribble. Look for Boston to continue this action in Game 2, and look for a harder hedge from the Pistons' big men.
Detroit must also keep Rondo on the perimeter -- he just blew by Pistons defenders when they closed out to him on the rotation. Although he did hit a big 3 late in the fourth quarter, look for the Pistons to close out on him under more control and keep him shooting jump shots instead of driving for layups.
With Pierce and KG combining for 48 points on 20-for-35 shooting, Ray Allen's continued offensive funk was not a factor in Game 1. However, he is now the basketball equivalent of the second baseman with the throwing yips or the pitcher who's bouncing pitches six feet in front of the plate. Allen is missing badly, shooting air balls and falling sideways or off-balance on nearly every perimeter jumper.
Allen is making nothing while shooting off the move, and even on ball screens he has lost his aggressiveness. Look for Doc Rivers to place Allen in a more stationary position offensively by putting him on the wing or in the corner on Rondo's side and letting Rondo drive that gap. If Rondo can draw the help defender, then Allen has a much easier catch-and-shoot from that spot -- potentially helping him to get his confidence back.
In Game 2 look for more of the Celtics' home-court energy, which has so far made them invincible in their building. Expect more aggressiveness and better defense from the Pistons -- and another close game in the 80s.
PREDICTION: Celtics win Game 2
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.