NEW YORK — At some point, we’re going to have to write off the Boston Celtics as a group that just can’t hang with the best teams in the NBA.
Is it now?
When Carmelo Anthony drove right past Kevin Garnett for a dunk late in the third quarter on Tuesday, was that some sort of symbolism?
|Celtics efficiency by half, Games 1-2|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
After getting shut down in the second half for the second straight game, Boston trails their first round series with the New York Knicks 0-2. Start preparing the obituary. Just hold off on hitting the “publish” button.
The Celtics certainly seem outmatched in this series. They’ve had their moments in the first two games, but they just haven’t had the offense to keep pace with the potent Knicks for a full game. New York deserves some credit for the way it has defended in the second half, both on Saturday and on Tuesday. But the Celtics’ offense has been largely responsible for turning a below-average defensive team in the regular season into the best defensive team of the playoffs thus far.
But we’ve seen this before. We remember the Celtics getting thumped in Game 3 at home against Cleveland in the 2010 conference semifinals before eventually reaching Game 7 of The Finals. We remember them going down 0-2 to the Heat last season before winning the next three games.
Is this the time they don’t come back? Is this the first time this group loses in the first round?
Maybe Rajon Rondo‘s absence has finally caught up to them. The lack of a real point guard has been dreadfully apparent as the Celtics have struggled to get into their offense whenever the Knicks have applied any kind of perimeter pressure.
“We let them get inside our plays and it was to their advantage,” Avery Bradley, point guard by default, said. “We were getting shots up like three seconds into the shot clock every time down the floor.”
Maybe Garnett and Paul Pierce just can’t carry a team like they used to. Pierce has been defended by smaller players all series, but he’s still had to force a lot of contested shots. Garnett has had better looks at the basket, but has shot 8-for-21 (38 percent) in the two games. There shouldn’t be any doubt now that the Knicks have the two best offensive players in the series.
Maybe Boston’s supporting cast just isn’t good enough to support their two remaining (and aging) stars. Their back-up guards have shot a combined 7-for-26 (27 percent) and their back-up bigs have played a combined nine minutes. While Mike Woodson can call on Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith and dependable veterans Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin off his bench, Doc Rivers has no one he can count on beyond his starters.
We believe the Celtics are too proud, too tough and too defensive-minded to go down without a fight. But in these last six seasons, this is the lowest they’ve finished in the standings, this is the worst they’ve been defensively, and this is the best team they’ve faced in the first round.
Ask Rivers a question about how his team has responded to adversity over the last six years, and he’ll be quick to point out that “This is not that group. This is not the group we’ve had. This is a bunch of new guys, with two guys [who’ve been there before].”
Game 2, an 87-71 defeat, was somewhat of a carbon copy of Game 1, except that the Knicks’ second-half storm was much worse and the game was essentially over midway through the third quarter, after New York scored 23 points in a stretch of 11 possessions.
“They just attacked us,” Rivers said, “and we didn’t handle it very well.”
Anthony was more efficient and Raymond Felton was more aggressive in the pick-and-roll, ultimately creating better ball movement for the Knicks.
Now, the Celtics must find a way to win Game 3 at home on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). They must hope that their regular season home-road discrepancy (second largest in the league) applies to the postseason. Over the last two years, they’ve been a much better defensive team at the TD Garden than they’ve been away from it.
Of course, defense isn’t enough. The Celtics must find a way to score … for more than two quarters.
“We can defend this team,” Garnett said Tuesday. “If we’re able to put some points up on the board, I like our chances.”
Right now, that looks like a huge “if.” These just aren’t the same Celtics … right?
“We are who we are,” Rivers said. “We can’t apologize for that. That’s what we’ve been left with. I think it’s enough to win.”
Only time will tell.