The Celtics' last gasp before the inevitable fall

USA TODAY Sports

Beaten down and beat up, Boston is rudderless in a series that's all but over. Paul Flannery reports from Game 3.

BOSTON -- So, this is how it ends? With halftime boos and an almost empty crowd filing out of the Garden silent and dejected after yet another soul-crushing loss? There was always a feeling that the Celtics' run would end badly. The temptation to keep it going for one more year was always greater than the knowledge that all things must end someday.

A half hour or so after it was over and the Celtics had once again failed to run anything that resembled an NBA offense in yet another dispiriting loss, Rajon Rondo slipped into a back room with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The three remaining stalwarts from the glory days talked and talked. Lord only knows what they discussed in that back room since their usual high-volume NSFW bull session was reduced to a whisper.

After all the missed layups, careless turnovers and blown chances in a 90-76 loss, the Celtics are down 3-0 to the Knicks. There's no way they're coming back from this one. Not this time. Finally Pierce emerged, a mixture of defiant and cliche. Yes, he's surprised they're in this position. It is what it is and they got to take it one game at a time and all that.

Someone asked him about the players that weren't there like Rondo and Jared Sullinger and he shot back, "You really can't look at that as an excuse. Right now what we got to go out there with we've got to play with. That's the hand we've been dealt. You can't look out and say, ‘What if we had this, what if we had that.' We don't. That's what it is. That's what it's been the last few weeks, the last month and we understood that."

This is what it is. The Celtics don't have a point guard. Avery Bradley is a lot of things and he's going to be a good player in this league but he's not that. Doc Rivers tried to shake things up by starting Jason Terry to take some of the pressure off Bradley. Despite scoring 14 points he was scorched on the other end by Pablo Prigioni. The 35-year-old rookie will never be confused with Dale Ellis, but he buried three 3s all the same.

There are no more answers for the Celtics. The Terry gambit didn't work. The old lineup wasn't getting it done either, and by old we mean the one that had barely played together this season. You look around the Celtics' locker room and see guys who just arrived taking up space where Ray Allen, Glen Davis, Tony Allen and the rest used to hang their clothes.

Some of them had to go, others felt like they had no choice. Things change, but the Celtics as we knew them are no more. Garnett and Pierce are still up for a good old-fashioned bar fight but the legs aren't as willing as they once were and the others haven't lived through all those Game 7s and backs-against-the-wall games.

"[T]hose are the times you have to band together and take some punches. We took them but we didn't really give none back." -Kevin Garnett

Those Celtics would have responded when J.R. Smith came flying down the lane for a dunk. They would have sealed off Ray Felton from going wherever he wanted on the pick and roll. They would have swung the ball one more time and looked for the open man.

"If you haven't been here and experienced playoff play and understand the whole thing, those are the times you have to band together and take some punches," Garnett said. "We took them but we didn't really give none back. When we messed up they made us pay for it and good teams are going to do that."

Let it be said that the Knicks are a very good team. Carmelo Anthony has been excellent throughout the series. He's rarely tried to do too much and has made big shot after big shot. Felton has carved them up repeatedly. Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin have played their roles perfectly, as have Prigioni and Iman Shumpert. J.R. Smith has provided just enough scoring and energy. After surviving Game 1, they have been in complete control of the series.

They let the Celtics hang around for a while on Friday night and then blew their doors off with a 24-13 second quarter that gave them a 16-point lead and drew boos from the crowd. Beaten down and beat up, there was no response from the Celtics.

Maybe it's unfair to what the Knicks have been able to accomplish, but their success has taken a backseat to the complete disarray the Celtics find themselves in at this point. The only fight they've shown was when Smith elbowed Terry and drew a Flagrant-2, which carries an automatic ejection.

"I don't know," Rivers said. "I wish I was playing. I didn't like that. You're up. So, I'm going to stop. I've already given up money."

But Rivers isn't playing and the team he's coaching bares little resemblance to the grit-and-balls teams he's had in the past.

"I don't know, I can't get in their heads," Rivers said. "I just know we missed some great shots. I mean, I think Paul misses a layup, Kevin misses a layup, Jet misses a point-blank layup, we missed about three or four wide-open shots. And you've just got to be mentally tougher. That happens. And I didn't think we were tonight. I just thought we fought for a little while, kind of gave in, and then we got our fight back a little bit in third quarter. And then they made shots. And that's when the turnover barrage started."

Just like it did in Game 1 and Game 2 and probably will in Game 4 or 5 or whenever this thing ends. They'll play hard again on Sunday and maybe pride will even take them back to New York, provided a few more shots fall.

"I'm going to play till it's over," Garnett said. "I'm not easily broken. It's always been my mentality, always probably will. I've been to the bottom before. I know what it is. Our effort, trying and putting a valid effort together we're playing a very good team. There's no other choice. No other options here."

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