They say a playoff series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game. So one way to look at the first round series between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks is to say: “Well, it hasn’t started yet.” On the other hand, at this rate, it may start and end rather unceremoniously if Doc Rivers can’t find a way to convince his embattled troops that they must play four quarters in each game, rather than three as they did in Game 1, or two as they did in Game 2. The Celtics face the unenviable task of winning four out of five games against a Knicks team that has won 18 of its last 20, and has only one meaningful loss since March 17, a 118-111 overtime defeat in Chicago, which halted New York’s 13-game winning streak. Call it a mountain, cause it ain’t a hill they’ll be climbing.
The first quarter featured a 13-2 Celtics run that built a 20-15 lead. Then New York reeled off 11 straight to end the quarter, thanks to a Jason Kidd 25-footer from the top of the key, and a J.R. Smith isolation (is there any other kind of J.R. Smith shot?). The shot that killed any Celtics momentum was Smith’s buzzer-beating 36-footer that came on the heels of a Pierce turnover.
When Carmelo rested in the second quarter, the Celtics defense suffocated the Knicks, which led to 9 fast-break points, and balanced scoring. The ghost of Jason Terry came alive and hit a transition three-pointer and then a second triple, and suddenly, the Celtics held a 46-37 lead and the MSG crowd was shaking their heads at the lack of balance their Knicks displayed.
It would be helpful to know what went on at halftime. Mike Woodson and his assistants are dominating the coaching battle so far in this series. Woodson’s Game 1 adjustment of inserting Kenyon Martin and convincing Carmelo to involve everyone in the offense was significant. During game 2’s halftime speech, he must have passed out some defensive potion. A hard-fought Celtics six-point halftime lead (48-42) disappeared faster than a taxi at rush hour in mid-town.
New York outscored Boston 32-11 in the 3rd, but it was a 26-6 run in the first eight minutes of the quarter that doomed Boston.
The only thing to say about the 3rd period is that it rivaled Game 1’s 4th period for offensive ineptitude. The Celtics can not score in the playoffs without Rajon Rondo unless they string together stops and get out in transition. In the 3rd, they couldn’t do either.
This is not speculation anymore. We feared it would be true. Kevin Garnett (4 of 9) will have to do more offensively. It would help if the cheap fouls that were called on Garnett in Game 2 didn’t get called in the next few games, but when you’re on the road as a 7th seed, sometimes the calls the Celtics used to get as a dominant team won’t be going there way anymore. Jeff Green (4 of 11) must be a 17-20 point scorer for this version of the Celtics to advance, or perhaps, to win a few playoff games. If Green doesn’t get more touches, especially in the open court, the Knicks will dominate defensively. Green also has to find a way to make his mark defensively, as he did in Game 1.
But how are they supposed to find open shots? As much as we love Avery Bradley’s defensive prowess and his attitude, he cannot create offensively, and doesn’t seem able to make the basic passes at times. He should be playing off the ball, but then who initiates? Paul Pierce would be the answer, and it worked against the weak defenses of the NBA in January and February, but it isn’t working right now. In the 32-11 massacre that was the 3rd quarter, Pierce went 2 for 5, Garnett 2 for 6, Bradley 0 for 2, Crawford 0 for 2, while Jeff Green and Brandon Bass both missed 1 shot. As a team, they shot 4 of 18 (22%) with a paltry 3 assists.
One thought: the Celtics haven’t been home since Thursday and Friday’s chaos in Watertown and Cambridge. Their minds have no doubt been occupied, at least to a degree, with the craziness. They’ve played great basketball for parts of the first two games of this series, and have reason to believe they can make this series competitive.
The Celtics are going back to Boston, where the fans can’t wait to propel them back into this series. Without their typical swagger, this Boston team has no hope. But there is a decent chance they find that swagger on Friday night, back at the Garden. How long they can maintain it is another question.
3rd Quarter nightmare:
When this team can’t get easy baskets, they can’t get anything at all. The Knicks half-court defense deserves some credit, but if Garnett comes out missing his first three jumpers after the half, the Celtics aren’t going to win many games.
Here’s the awful sequence that spelled the beginning of the end of Game 2:
3rd Quarter Summary
|11:38||48-45||Iman Shumpert makes three point jumper (Pablo Prigioni assists)|
|11:12||Kevin Garnett misses 15-foot two point shot||48-45|
|11:11||48-45||Iman Shumpert defensive rebound|
|10:49||48-45||Iman Shumpert misses driving layup|
|10:48||Kevin Garnett defensive rebound||48-45|
|10:41||Paul Pierce misses 18-foot two point jumper||48-45|
|10:41||48-45||Carmelo Anthony defensive rebound|
|10:18||48-45||Carmelo Anthony misses 11-foot jumper|
|10:15||Paul Pierce defensive rebound||48-45|
|10:07||Kevin Garnett misses 18-foot jumper||48-45|
|10:06||48-45||Pablo Prigioni defensive rebound|
|9:57||48-48||Iman Shumpert makes 25-foot three point jumper (Pablo Prigioni assists)|
|9:37||Paul Pierce makes layup (Kevin Garnett assists)||50-48|
|9:19||Paul Pierce shooting foul (Carmelo Anthony draws the foul)||50-50|
|9:19||50-49||Carmelo Anthony makes free throw 1 of 2|
|9:19||50-50||Carmelo Anthony makes free throw 2 of 2|
|9:10||50-50||Raymond Felton personal foul (Paul Pierce draws the foul)|
|9:03||Paul Pierce lost ball turnover (Pablo Prigioni steals)||50-50|
|8:48||50-52||Raymond Felton makes driving layup|
|8:48||Celtics Full timeout|
|8:27||Kevin Garnett misses 9-foot||50-52|
|8:26||50-52||Carmelo Anthony defensive rebound|
|8:12||50-54||Tyson Chandler makes layup (Pablo Prigioni assists)|
|8:12||Kevin Garnett shooting foul (Tyson Chandler draws the foul)||50-55|
|8:12||Jason Terry enters the game for Kevin Garnett||50-54|
|8:12||50-55||Tyson Chandler makes free throw 1 of 1|
Game 1: Knicks 85, Celtics 78 | REITER
Game 2: Knicks 87, Celtics 71 | MANNIX
Game 3: at BOS, Fri., April 26, 8:00 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: at BOS, Sun., April 28, 1:00 p.m., ABC
Game 5: at NY, Wed., May 1, TBD*
Game 6: at BOS, Fri., May 3, TBD*
Game 7: at NY, Sun., May 5, TBD*