TD GARDEN — First game jitters are normal. Especially for players who have never appeared in the postseason, or it has been a little while since they have. It appeared the Boston Celtics experienced those nerves at the start of Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers Sunday afternoon. Just take a look at the stats.
In the first half, the Celtics were outscored by seven, went 4-17 from three-point land (23.5 percent) and 13-40 from the floor (32.5 percent), and committed 10 turnovers. It wasn’t pretty.
“Probably a little anxious for sure,” Gordon Hayward said. “I mean it’s the first playoff game so we’re definitely a little anxious.”
For Hayward, it wasn’t just his first playoff game of the season; it was his first postseason appearance in nearly two years. The same goes for Kyrie Irving, as both of those players were sidelined with injuries during Boston’s run last year.
“It felt great. Especially, because we got the win,” Hayward said. “To be out there with my teammates; it was a very good feeling.”
Jayson Tatum said he noticed the jitters in both Irving and Hayward, but had different feelings himself. As a rookie last season, Tatum averaged 18.5 points per game in the playoffs – the highest on the team. He said that experience prepared him mentally for Sunday afternoon.
“I wasn’t nervous. I remember the last time we were in this building in the playoffs and we lost so I was ready to get back,” Tatum said. “Last year I was super nervous going into the playoffs. Everyone was talking about how different it is than the regular season and it is. Going through what we did last year, I knew what to expect.”
Head coach Brad Stevens didn’t want to disrespect the effort of the Pacers by attributing the Celtics’ poor first half to a few of his star players simply being nervous. Stevens saw many more factors that prohibited his team from getting in a rhthym early on.
“Those guys are tough and physical and for us to say we were just tight, and we missed shots would not be fair to them,” Stevens said. “I thought that they were tremendous defensively and they did some things a little differently then they had in the last two games in a lot of ways.”
Defense continued to be the name of the game and once the Celtics shook the nerves at halftime, they proved they could win without high-flying offense and their workhorse on defense, Marcus Smart.
The Pacers only scored eight points in the third quarter and just two field goals – and one of them was a defensive goaltending call on Al Horford. That cold streak was ignited by turnovers, which prohibited Indiana from executing on offense.
Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said his team lost their way in the third quarter, but still praised their defensive efforts.
“They scored 84 points. I don’t know if Boston has scored 84 points the entire season. So defensively we did some good things,” he said. “The third quarter, we started off with two turnovers. We had open looks that we did not knock down. I thought we lost a little confidence in that third quarter and they got the momentum and really never let that go.”
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That momentum the Celtics stole stemmed from chemistry. Boston’s ball movement was at times excessive, but let to the team sharing the rock and getting significant contributions from multiple players.
Five players scored in double-digits, with Marcus Morris adding 20 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Stevens was not surprised to see that performance out of Morris.
“You saw that coming in the last two days of practice. He was terrific at practice on Thursday when we went live,” his coach said. “He played big and strong. He’s a hard guy to guard with bigs because he spreads the floor for you.”
But for Morris’ teammates, it was his attitude that mattered the most – especially for Irving, who was slow to get going on offense.
“He is not so much about scoring as much as he is the attitude coming in and really just throwing himself into the game. I appreciated that. I think we all did,” No. 11 said. “Just by the way we started, not being able to hit the shots we wanted to. Not being aggressive. We just need that. I wasn’t hitting any shots in the first half as well, so to have that be sustained by him, just being aggressive, really helped us.”
With first-game jitters no longer a viable excuse, the Celtics will look to extend their series record to 2-0 with a more consistent performance when they face the Pacers again on Wednesday night.
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