The Boston Celtics knew a win over the New York Knicks on the road would require better offensive execution, especially in the second half. They also knew whatever happens on offense might not matter if their opponents started making shots from long distance.
Some things are easier said than done, as the old saying goes. The Celtics learned those things the hard way as Carmelo Anthony powered the Knicks to an 87-71 victory on Tuesday night in Game 2 of their first round series.
Coming off an 85-78 Game 1 defeat in which the team blew a narrow halftime lead by scoring just 25 points in the second half, the Celtics couldn't afford to repeat their mistakes Tuesday. Instead, they practically compounded them, turning a six-point lead into a double-digit deficit in a matter of minutes during the third quarter.
One of those mistakes was allowing Anthony to get going on the offensive end. Coming off a 36-point effort in the opening game of the series, the league's leading scorer this season nearly repeated the performance, finishing with 34 points on 11 of 24 shooting.
For the Celtics, it sometimes felt like Game 1 all over again.
After one quarter, New York had jumped out to a 26-20 lead, punctuated by a 36-foot buzzer-beating shot from J.R. Smith. At that point, it seemed like Boston would be in for another night of poor ball movement and even worse shots, but the Celtics found some rhythm with their reserves in the second quarter.
Powered by the usual suspects and a healthy dose of Jason Terry, the Celtics turned a six-point deficit into a 48-42 advantage going into halftime.
A constant focus in discussions following Boston's first loss against New York, the team's reserves came out much stronger Tuesday. Terry in particular was productive off the bench for the Celtics early, knocking down 3 of 5 attempts from beyond the arc as part of a nine-point effort in the first half.
Even after going cold in the second half, the Celtics' bench still finished with 19 points Tuesday, easily outpacing the four points compiled in Game 1.
Still, the Celtics will forever be a team that depends on its best players, a pair of future Hall of Famers, and they didn't quite pull through Tuesday. Kevin Garnett in particular needed to be more active, finishing the game with 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting in just 24 minutes.
That lackluster play allowed the Knicks to finally break the game open in the third quarter, not unlike what happened over the weekend in Game 1. With the Celtics' offense coming to a screeching halt, the third quarter became a 32-11 Knicks rout, flipping a six-point deficit into a 15-point lead going into the final quarter.
In that position, the Celtics simply didn't have the offensive firepower to coax a comeback. With the Madison Square Garden crowd into things and Anthony channeling his inner Bernard King, Boston would have needed some otherworldly performances to avoid another loss. Those simply didn't happen.
Even with Tyson Chandler at less than 100 percent, the Celtics were unable to take advantage of their opponents' undersized roster. Chandler finished with just three points and five rebounds in 22 minutes, but his presence in the post was noticeable.
Paul Pierce was solid as usual for the Celtics, leading the team with 18 points, six assists and six rebounds, but it's clear the team can't win games when he's the sole focal point of the offense. Jeff Green (3 of 11 for 10 points) was unable to repeat his solid performance from the opening game, forcing Pierce to take 19 shots.
Beyond Anthony, Smith led New York with 19 points on 7 of 15 shooting, much of it coming in the first half. Raymond Felton also played well, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Kenyon Martin pitched in 11 rebounds off the bench.
The Knicks lead the series 2-0 entering Game 3, which is scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m. ET.