The Celtics had two days to watch film, point out their mistakes and think about how they could possibly score 25 points in the second half of a playoff game. Then they went out and played worse. They shot 4-for-18 in the third quarter and 3-for-18 in the fourth, which almost seems impossible unless you watched the game and then it felt all too real.
The truly disconcerting thing was that it all felt inevitable, like finally beating your old man in a backyard game of one-on-one and knowing there isn't a damn thing he can do about it. Once the Knicks got their act together defensively and Carmelo Anthony started making shots it was all over. A 10-0 run may as well be a 30-point spread for the Celtics right now.
It wasn't loose ball rebounds or sloppy turnovers that did them in either. It wasn't a lack of effort or focus. The foul trouble that Kevin Garnett found himself in all night didn't help, but even when KG was in the game they looked old, tired and disorganized. The 87-71 loss to the Knicks leaves them in a 2-0 hole and staring at a ticking clock that by all rights should have expired years ago.
This is not really surprising and we should have all seen this coming. In early March, the Celtics beat the Pacers on a brilliant last-second playcall from Doc Rivers. A few days later they beat Atlanta in overtime. Since then, the C's have gone 7-15 including four losses to the Knicks by a total of 57 points.
They only beat one team with a winning record during the last quarter of the season and it was the freaking Hawks, who started Johan Petro, Ivan Johnson and DeShawn Stevenson. It felt like they were just marking time and playing possum, but maybe this is just who they are now.
Paul Pierce can still play, but asking him to carry the load for 38 minutes as a scorer and distributor is simply too much. Presumptive heir Jeff Green doesn't have the all-around skillset to be that guy and when Jordan Crawford is your salvation, you're obviously living on borrowed time.
Since the 2010 season, the C's have profiled as a bad offensive basketball team. They turn it over too much, they don't get to the free throw line enough and they lack the fundamental thing all NBA teams must have to run successful offenses in this day and age: shot creators. (*Cough* Rondo *Cough*.)
They've survived because of their defense and that vaunted D was shredded for 32 points in a disastrous third quarter. They couldn't stop Ray Felton from slicing them up on the pick and roll and they couldn't deal with Melo when he inevitably got hot.
The Celtics simply don't have any answers and the scary thing is that the Knicks haven't really played that well yet. Tyson Chandler still looks a step slow and they haven't experienced a true J.R. Smith onslaught, save for a dynamic first quarter when he scored nine of his 19 points.
OK, deep breath.
The temptation is to bury the Celtics and rev up the post-mortems. Time to think about that long-delayed Plan B and the tough choices that will inevitably come with the reconstruction. With another interminable two-day wait for Game 3, you can expect a rash of those types of stories. Knowing what we know they may even be justified. It certainly feels like they are. It has for more than a month now.
But I will not bury the Celtics yet. I will not bury them before they've played a home game because Garnett and Pierce deserve that much, at least. I will not bury them because these eyes have seen too much over the years. Friday's Game 3 will be yet another last stand and it's true that even their last stands are becoming more depressing. But it's still theirs to make, even if pride is all they have left.
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