Posted on: April 22, 2011 3:10 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 7:00 pm
Madison Square Garden hosts its first playoff game in over five years. Will the Big Apple boys be able to kick the demons the Celtics have sicked on them in the final minutes of Game 1 and 2?
Posted by Matt Moore
The Narrative: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That's the reality of where the Knicks are at. A stellar performance by Stoudemire in Game 1 crushed by a terrible performance from Melo and a vintage Ray Allen three. A superhuman response from Melo in Game 2 without Billups or Stoudemire, vanquished by Jared Jeffries bowled over on one end, intercepted on the other. The Knicks fought so well in the first two games. And they have nothing to show for it.
The crowd at MSG will be there. But you have to wonder about the emotional response of the Knicks. Those were two tough, tough losses to take. And versus a usual six seed who would just be happy to have shown some life and been in the conversation, New York's on a different level. The market, the city, the superstars, the expectations all mean that they're supposed to finish those games when they have the chance, even with the vagabonds they currently have in key rotation positions. Trying to get a lock on how the Knicks will come out is pretty difficult. You have to believe Stoudemire will be ready, having been in so many playoff games. Melo might be in the same boat, but he might also be checked out after doing what he did in Game 2 and having the game blown up by Jeffries electing to pass.
The Knicks' best effort will come from riding that surge of emotion. They can't out-execute the Celtics, but if Stoudemire's back, Boston also won't be able to throw nine-hundred defenders at Melo at once. The Knicks need to get out in transition, create steals, scrap like they did in the first two games and hang on. Surrendering late leads isn't just a way to lose a game. It's a way to lose a series. Just ask Indiana.
The Hook: You know who's been terrible? Landry Fields. Which isn't really fair to say since he's a rookie and all, and he hit the rookie wall about two months ago. Essentially, since the Melo trade, he's fallen off the map. Whether it's chemistry or lineups or balance, Fields hasn't been able to make the same kind of impact he did early in the season. Which would be something we'd excuse and move over, but as thin as the Knicks are, they need every player who could be considered "good" to contribut. Fields is 2-7 in this series with a rebound, a turnover, and a block in 35 combined minutes. He was even 0-2 at the free throw line. Fields doesn't have a great offensive repertoire and isn't any sort of speed demon. But he's got to make his presence felt somewhere. Hustle plays, easy layups, steals, blocks, somewhere. He's got to put in some sort of impact. The Knicks don't have enough players for Fields to no-show. That's just the reality of where he's at.
The Adjustment: Stoudemire might be back, and he killed the Celtics in Game 1. The Celtics aren't known to just accept certain guys doing damage. So they'll likely be more aggressive with STAT at the elbow and low. The elbow is Stoudemire's ISO starting position. Since the Knicks are likely without Chauncey Billups again, there isn't a ball-handler to really attack with Stoudemire in the pick and roll (and isn't that a shame). So those elbow possessions will be up should Stoudemire give it a go. Expect the Celtics to possibly back off the elbow jumper to keep Stoudemire from driving, hoping those back spasms will tighten up his release to distract him. When he does drive, expect more low help, as neither Turiaf nor Jeffries have proven they can handle, collect, or produce off the dump-off pass.
Also expect a really healthy dose of elbows to the back of Stoudemire. If he plays, he's going to physically wish he hadn't. This is what the Celtics do.
If the Knicks are smart, they'll force the issue with the pick and roll. Yes, the Celtics are one of the best pick and roll defensive teams in the league, and yes, the Knicks are without a capable guard to run said system. But even getting Melo as ball-handler or working with veteran guard Anthony Carter could help. Stoudemire is so good in that set, to not use him is almost criminal.
The X-Factor: Injury, obviously. Shaq's almost definitely out. Amar'e is a gametime decision. Billups is likely out. The Celtics have a handful of scrapes and bruises, including Jermaine O'Neal's wrist, which turned him from a major influencer in Game 1 to a near-liability in Game 2. Despite this being a Mike D'Antoni team, this has been a rough and tumble series, with some good defense played on both sides. There's going to be more hammering, more contact, more bad blood. The Celtics know that Game 3 and 4 are chances for the knockout punch. They also know that losing both means less rest before facing the Heat in the semis. The Knicks know the Garden is their last stand and another suckerpunch loss will pretty much doom them and the players will start to check out mentally. With the injuries in play, this is going to come down to a battle of wills.
And in that situation, you never, ever want to bet against the Celtics.
The Sticking Point: The Knicks got a superb performance from Stoudemire in Game 1. They got an other-worldly response from Melo, short-handed, in Game 2. Their best hope in this series was for their star players to step up and take over the game. That happend. They still lost. The Celtics haven't shut down the Knicks' best players, but they've done enough, particularly in the last five minutes. Swagger's a cliche, but it's also got some truth to it. The Celtics know they can win, no matter what the Knicks do.
Can the Knicks find a different way to win, or are they just pretty much who they are? The Garden's waiting to find out.
Posted on: April 18, 2011 12:00 pm
Reactions from around the web to the Celtics' Game 1 win over the Knicks...
Posted by Matt Moore
Last night started off like the regular season ended but ended like it started. It is almost as if the bad habits developed over the last several weeks carried over. But sure enough, when they needed it most, the switch came on and the team rallied and won.via The Switch Flickered - CelticsBlog.
If this were a 4-5 matchup, it would be one thing. Or a second-round matchup. But I'm a little surprised that so many Celtics fans are so "well, there they go again, flipping the switch" in this one. I loathe the "one team lost it more than the other team won it" angle in most circumstances. Spurs fans are saying a lot of that Monday morning without taking notice of the fact that Marc Gasol did earn all 24 of his points. But here? The Knicks didn't have a shot to win this thing. They had about nineteen. Their failure to execute wasn't based off of personnel, it was based off of decision making and shooting. Which, yes, you can credit the Celtics' defense for, as always. It just seems like in a series where the Celtics should overwhelm their opponent to such a considerable degree, there would be more uneasiness regarding "the switch." But then again, it was Game 1. The Celtics were in a tight series with Miami in the beginning and then a series of dramatic events last year lit a fire under them. Perhaps the same thing is happening here.
It has to make you wonder why they can't figure out a way to get him the ball more. He's only shooting career highs in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage this season. Ho-hum.via Ray Comes Through Just in the Knick of Time - CelticsBlog.
Having someone like Allen to rely on is such a huge advantage. He's that player where, when he shot the game winner against the Knicks, every Knicks fans is screaming "how can you let him get open?" But in reality, it's his abily to get open, and to knock down those shots when he should be triple-covered that makes him so good. Well, that and a good Kevin Garnett illegal screen/trip. The Knicks answered with their player who has that ability to kill you with last second shots, he just didn't work to create a good opportunity for himself.
And then there's Melo. When he received the ball with a few seconds left and a chance to tie or win, I was all like "wow, it would be VERY Melo to sink the big shot after sucking the whole second half", but he didn't. It ended up being a pair of quarters in which Anthony hit just one field goal (a put-back) and scored just three points. He was cookin' soup from outside in the first half, but it didn't feel sustainable and wasn't. Anthony attacked the basket only in spurts, and seemed hesitant to do so as the game progressed, perhaps because of several plays in which he was stripped and didn't get the calls he felt he deserved. 5-18 on the night, 2-8 from downtown, and just 15 points. He defended Paul Pierce decently, but got a bit lost when screens and switching took place. Nothing unusual there. I'm verrrrrry intrigued to see how he responds to this in game two.via Game One: Celtics 87, Knicks 85: "Everything hurts." - Posting and Toasting.
Knicks fans can't be frustrated with Melo, this is who he is. Well, kind of. He's usually a very good clutch shooter, he was just off that game down the stretch. But they shouldn't be (and Posting and Toasting wasn't) surprised with him taking jumpers and not going to the rim. That's his game. Even jump shots are okay if you're working to get open shots. Use a pick. Work off-ball. Create some space. But no, instead, Melo literally worked to create the most difficult shot he could, and then was disappointed when it didn't work. Amar'e Stoudemire opted for some tough shots down the stretch, but they were tough because of the probability he was going to get fouled. And instead, he didn't get a chance to save the team he was the first to join last summer. That's a huge tactical mistake on the part of the Knicks, Mike D'Antoni, and Melo.
"I think we were doing everything in our power to get Amar'e the ball," Anthony said. "He had it going. He was the horse we were riding tonight. Tonight was his night. We tried to go to him, we were going to him, and he was producing. Toward the end, I think the Celtics made some adjustments."via Melo, Knicks miss opportunity in tough loss to Celtics - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball.
Yes, Melo. The Celtics made some adjustments. By willing you into going hero mode.
Hot-hand, no hot-hand, you should go with the guy who "has it" that night versus the guy who has been a popsicle for two quarters. Amar'e was decisive, strong, composed and downright physically terrifying. And instead the Knicks wound up with a jumper. Yeesh.
This New York team may not have Boston’s playoff experience or consistent defensive intensity but they made great improvements over their regular season selves last night. They defended with gusto, particularly on the interior where they turned away multiple Boston layups (the Celtics, like the Knicks, shot only 50% at the rim, pedestrian figures compared to the regular season league average of 64.1%). As well, the Knicks proved they could hang with Boston during a slow paced game. And they have at least one player the Celtics had no answer for. So, we’ve got a series here.via Boston Celtics blog — Celtics news, analysis, commentary from CelticsHub.com.
The pace thing is certainly interesting. This team is so poorly fit for D'Antoni's style after the trade. Slow, shooter point guard, gunning ISO wing, no real versatility at postion, and no real element of speed. Does that help in the playoffs? It did for most of the game. The ground out a game against the Celtics. They weren't going to be able to do that against the Celtics before the trade. Didn't have the personnel. Which is doubly weird considering Carmelo Anthony's been on high-pace teams for much of his career.
The Celtics actually had more success when they got out in transition. This was a weird game.
O’Neal did his best work during the Celtics’ third-quarter surge, as they worked their way back from a 12-point deficit. He scored 6 points, blocked Anthony twice and kept alive numerous possessions.via Knicks Leave Opening, and Celtics Slip Past - NYTimes.com.
Everyone assumed the Celtics would be sunk without Shaquille O'Neal. J.O. gave the kind of performance you have to have from role players in the playoffs. If the Knicks' lack of talent at center gives J.O. life, the rest of the East will have a bone to pick after a mediocre regular season from him.
Posted on: April 17, 2011 10:50 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 1:57 pm
New York Knicks guard Chauncey Billups is day-to-day with a strained knee and doesn't know whether he'll be able to play in Game 2. Posted by Ben Golliver.
Monday update: The Associated Press reports that New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said that Chauncey Billups is not likely to play in Game 2 on Tuesday due to the knee injury suffered during Game 1,
Chauncey Billups is expected to miss the second game of the New York Knicks’ playoff series against the Boston Celtics because of a left leg injury. Coach Mike D’Antoni said Monday the starting point guard was “very questionable” for Tuesday night’s game in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.
With just minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of New York's Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics, Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups left the court for the locker room with an injured left knee. Replays showed that Billups fell to the ground awkwardly after attempting a driving lay-up attempt that was challenged by Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal.
The MSG Network reported that Billups suffered a "strained left knee" on the play and there there would be an "update [Monday] from practice." Game 2 of the series is scheduled for Tuesday night in Boston.
CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reported on Twitter that "Billups says when he took off on his left leg, it 'buckled. ... It just kind of gave out on me.' He has 'no clue' whether he'll play Game 2."
On the season, Billups is averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 assists. If he isn't able to go in Game 2, the Knicks will have to turn to reserve guards Anthony Carter and Toney Douglas. As Billups (10 points, two rebounds, four assists) was already losing his match-up with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (10 points, nine rebounds, nine assists), that would take things from bad to worse for New York.
Here's a look at the play.
Posted on: April 17, 2011 9:57 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 10:02 pm
Celtics guard Ray Allen hits a game-winning three-pointer to send Boston past the New York Knicks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first round series. Posted by Ben Golliver.
It's been an incredible opening weekend of NBA playoff basketball, filled with plenty of incredible performances, but Celtics guard Ray Allen takes the cake with his game-winning three-pointer to close out Game One for Boston over the New York Knicks.
With the Celtics trailing the Knicks at home 85-84 with less than 20 seconds left, Boston forward Paul Pierce began his team's final possession with the ball near halfcourt. After sustaining a bump from Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, Pierce waited for Ray Allen to set a pick on Anthony and then flare to the three-point line, where Celtics forward Kevin Garnett set a second pick on Knicks guard Toney Douglas. Douglas went crashing to the court, which freed Allen for an open look from the left angle. He buried it, giving Boston an 87-85 lead with 11.6 seconds remaining.
The Knicks, who were out of timeouts, pushed the ball up the court and found Anthony, who settled for a deep three-pointer with Allen and Celtics guard Rajon Rondo contesting. Anthony's potential game-winner was short, giving Boston an 87-85 victory in Game One of the first round playoff series.
Here's a look at the bang-bang sequence.
Posted on: April 14, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:13 pm
A preview of the first round playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics. Posted by Ben Golliver.
I. Intro: No. 6 seed New York Knicks (42-40) vs. No. 3 seed Boston Celtics (56-26)
This series is the undisputed darling of TV executives everywhere, featuring two storied franchises from major East Coast markets who will face each other when the favorite – Boston – appears to be at the peak of its vulnerability. There’s a past/present vs. future tension at play too, as the Celtics’ Big 3 looks to be approaching its final stand while the Knicks story is clearly still unfolding: Who will be the third star to team up with All-Star forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony?
This one boils down to: "Digging deep for one last push" versus "We did it! we're in the playoffs!" That puts the pressure and expectations squarely on Boston's shoulders.
II. What Happened: A look at the season series
The Celtics swept the season series, 4-0, averaging 107.8 points per game while allowing the Knicks just 101.3, making for a dominant 6.5 point average margin of victory. However, two of the games came before the trade deadline and one came on Wednesday night, in a meaningless game in which both team sat many key players.
This season, the Celtics have had their way on both ends of the court, averaging nearly 51% from the field in four meetings with the Knicks while out-rebounding New York, on average, 45-37. In general, the numbers from the season series aren't going to be comforting to Knicks fans, although Stoudemire did average 24 points and eight rebounds against the Celtics.
III. The Easy Stuff: Rajon Rondo is the X-Factor
What is going on with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo? Not since the Where’s Waldo? books have so many people spent so much time wondering about one man whose name ends in a vowel.
It’s always been easier to talk about Rondo as a talented enigma, a brilliant loner who dances to his own beat. Lately, his numbers are off, Boston’s scoring is way down since the trade deadline and steady veterans like Ray Allen are left wondering why their touches have evaporated. That combination has left Celtics fans queasy and concerned. No one ever really understood him and suddenly that feels like a huge problem.
In three appearances against New York this season, Rondo has been big: averaging 11.0 points, dishing 16.7 assists and grabbing 6.0 boards per game, while shooting 40.5% from the field. If he manages 80% of that output, the Celtics should cruise.
IV. Secret of the Series: Will elite defense trump elite offense in the playoffs?
Clearly, this series is a match-up of opposing strengths and styles. Boston enters the series with the No. 2 defense in the league from an efficiency perspective, barely trailing the league-leading Chicago Bulls. The Knicks bring the No. 5 offense in the league to the table, and boast the second most efficient offense in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Miami Heat. The contrast in styles continues as Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni also has his team playing the fastest pace of any playoff team while the Celtics are the fourth slowest of the 16 teams to make the postseason.
One of the NBA’s long-held commandments – correct or not – is that defense almost always trumps offense in these situations. The problem for New York, a point that’s been pounded home relentlessly over the last few months, is that Knicks are extremely imbalanced because of their struggles on the defensive end of the court. The Knicks are the least efficient defensive team to make the playoffs and will struggle mightily to stop the Celtics, even though Boston has been a slightly below average offensive team on the season.
Sure, it’s possible that top-flight offense overcomes solid defense, but rarely does a team as indifferent to stops as New York make any noise in April or May.
V. The Dinosaur Narrative: “Trading Kendrick Perkins was a death sentence for Boston’s title hopes”
At least for one series, we should get a respite from all the hand-wringing over Boston president Danny Ainge’s decision to ship his long-time center to Oklahoma City for reserve forward Jeff Green. Against the Knicks, Perkins would be helpful as an off-ball defender and rebounder but the Celtics should be able to match-up and clean the boards just fine if they go to a smaller ball lineup given New York’s general indifference to rebounding (the Knicks have the lowest rebound rate of any playoff team).
As has been often pointed out, the post-trade problem for the Celtics has been their offense, anyway, and not their defense or rebounding. Who better to get back on track against than the Knicks, who allow 105.7 points per game (third most in the league) and openly admitted as recently as March that they aren’t all on the same page schematically since trading for Anthony?
The Perkins trade – and what Green does or doesn’t give you – will be a huge factor down the road in potential later-round match-ups against the Miami Heat and/or Chicago Bulls. Against the Knicks, though, it really should be an afterthought.
VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?
PG: Struggling or not, zombie Rondo does far more, on both ends, than an aging Chauncey Billups.
SG: The overachieving, do-the-little-things-rookie making his first postseason appearance versus the NBA’s all-time leading three-point shooter and a tested, tough veteran with more than 100 career playoff appearances? Ray Allen all day over Landry Fields.
SF: To see just how close Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce is, check their career playoff numbers. Anthony: 24.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists. Pierce: 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists. Anthony gets the nod, but barely.
PF: Stoudemire – brash, confident, offensively overwhelmingly -- vs. Garnett – brash, confident, defensively overwhelming – might be the best individual match-up in any first round playoff series. In these situations, it’s best to expect a push.
C: Boston expects to get perpetually injured senior citizen Shaquille O’Neal back in time for the start of the first round and will pair him with Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic; the undersized Knicks turn to Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf. It’s impossible to call anyone in this group on either side a winner.
Bench: Glen Davis, Glen Davis’ hijinks and Jeff Green should have the advantage over the make-do scraps on New York’s bench that survived the trade for Anthony that sent half the roster to Denver.
Coach: Players like to play for (read: score for) Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni while the Celtics have shown over the year a devotion to and respect for Doc Rivers rarely seen in the NBA. That, plus the ring, gives Doc the edge.
Given how much the midseason trade for Anthony compromised New York’s depth, there’s a sense that the not yet fully formed Knicks are just happy to be in the postseason for the first time since 2003-2004. The Celtics, meanwhile, aren’t playing their best basketball but they do enter the postseason with a greater urgency, given the age and mentality of their core players. The Garnett/ Pierce/ Allen/ Rondo core has defeated far better all-around teams than this year’s Knicks, and a B- or better performance from Boston should be enough to see the Celtics through to the second round and a likely dream match-up with the Miami Heat. Prediction: Celtics in 5.
VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview
Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics are prepared to square off against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this matchup.
Posted on: April 12, 2011 5:54 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 6:22 pm
Posted by Matt Moore
The Boston Celtics will not take the Knicks seriously. You can count on that. That's essential to Boston's entire attitude. "We're big, we're bad, and we're really good. We don't have to take you seriously." That's key to their success and New York, despite having pushed the Celtics a bit in the regular season, is not considered in their league.
But that doesn't mean the Celtics aren't looking forward to it.
The Celtics are used to big, flashy match-ups. And to Paul Pierce, that means big, flashy cities. Like New York. So instead of the usual "ho-hum" he would have given a series against Indiana or even Philadelphia, Pierce says he's looking forward to playing Stoudemire, Melo and the gang. From ESPN:
"It's going to be a very interesting series," said Pierce. "I know everybody's going to tune in to watch it. I know this is going to be as exciting as probably that series versus the Lakers last year, or even the series we had [two years ago] versus the Bulls. I think it's going to be very exciting for the fans to watch."via Pierce: A very interesting series vs. Knicks - Boston Celtics Blog - ESPN Boston .
Comparing the first round to the Finals, that's some big stuff. Hearing Pierce describe the playoffs as "fun" is disconcerting considering how serious the Celtics take everything. Which gives you a pretty good sense of either where the Celtics' heads are at, or how confident they are. The Knicks haven't proven anything and aren't a great defensive club. That means Boston is going to enjoy making a statement. This is going to be the most publicized of all the first-round series, even if it's not that great of a series. Pierce actually has the toughest cover, against Anthony, and that should be a huge matchup. There's so much star power here, it's of course going to draw eyeballs.
And really, it's not like Boston and New York sports rivalries get a lot of attention.
In unrelated news, networks are hoping that the Orlando-Atlanta series averages a higher rating than a rerun of "How I Met Your Mother."
Posted on: April 11, 2011 10:16 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2011 10:20 pm
The Celtics pulled their starters against Washington Monday night, then lost in overtime to clinch the second seed for the Heat, while they wind up in 3rd. They'll be on the road from the second round on.
Posted by Matt Moore
The Celtics pulled their starters Monday night against Washington. Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all sat out versus the Wizards. Not surprising with only two games before the start of the playoffs. But the Celtics were just a game back of the Heat, who played the Hawks Monday night (and won).
Why would the Celtics have pulled starters when they still had a shot at getting homecourt advantage in the second round against Miami? The move represents a concession of homecourt to the Heat by not doing what is necessary to secure it. And in fact, the Celtics' second and third units lost to the Wizards in overtime, locking in the Heat as the second seed, and the Celtics into the third.
It's curious that the Celtics would just surrender it, and it does represent a failure on their part this season. The Celtics made homecourt a priority for much of the season after losing Game 7 in Los Angeles in last year's Finals. Now they'll be on the road from the second round, on. The Celtics know they can win without homecourt advantage. They're a veteran team that's done it in series past. But it makes it that much harder, makes the hill that much steeper, makes it that much more difficult for a team that's still looking for its identity.
There's no reason for Boston to panic.
There's just also very little reason for them not to panic.
Posted on: April 10, 2011 8:04 pm
By virtue of their 100-77 stomping of the Celtics on Sunday, the Miami Heat put a game between themselves and the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, settling in to the No. 2 seed. The Heat now control their own destiny: should they win out -- against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday – they will possess home court advantage in a potential second round series against the Celtics.
In addition to the prospect of needing to pull out a Game 7 on the road in American Airlines Arena, the Celtics, who are just 9-9 in their last 18 games, have all sorts of other problems to sort out. Here's a look at three of the biggest.
Almost all of the talk about Boston’s recent struggles have centered around the trade that sent center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green. While it’s a vast over-simplification to separate Boston’s season into with/without Perkins because there have been tons of injuries to cloud the picture -- including crucial ones to Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Marquis Daniels -- the numbers argue that Boston has been a different team since the deadline.
On Sunday, Boston lost to Miami by 23 points on Sunday, by far their biggest margin of defeat on the year. That stat underscores a massive shift in point differential since the Perkins trade.
Prior to the deadline, the Celtics put up 97.7 points per game while allowing 91.1 points per game, a differential of +6.6. That’s excellent. After the deadline, Boston is scoring 93.0 points per game while allowing 90.5 points per game, a differential of +2.5.
It may be surprising that Boston’s defensive numbers are much more similar than their offensive numbers, given Perkins’ reputation as a defensive stopper, but his absence for much of the season due to rehabilitation from knee surgery mostly explains that.
The issue since the deadline, then, is offense, just as it was during an ugly night against the Heat. Boston's bench combined for just 12 points on Sunday, and one player who will be needed in the playoffs is Green himself. He’s actually upped his per-minute scoring in Boston but was 0-1 from the field in 19 minutes on Sunday, scornig just four points and posting a whopping -16 in the +/- category.
Ultimately any discussion of Boston’s offensive problems begins and ends with point guard Rajon Rondo. It’s no secret that he’s been struggling, as his March and April numbers -- especially shooting the ball -- aren’t pretty. On Sunday, he was 3-8 for seven points and just five assists. While his assist numbers have rebounded a bit in April (at 10.4 per game instead of a season montly low of 8.9 per game in March), the Celtics as a whole are still moving the ball less effectively as a team since the Perkins trade.
Prior to the trade, Boston averaged 24.3 assists per game; after the trade, the number has slipped to 21.6. Some of that drop is explained by Boston playing more grinding games recently and some nagging injury issues for Rondo. Nevertheless, getting back to their elite level of ball movement is clearly the key to righting Boston’s offensive ship. Rondo has always been enigmatic. Is it as simple as him deciding to flip a switch to get things back to normal in the playoffs?
A glaring problem on Sunday was Boston’s inability to hit the glass. The final boxscore reveals just 26 total team rebounds, a season-low. To make matters worse, Boston had just three offensive rebounds as a team, despite missing 35 shots. That speaks to a lack of energy and focus from both the first and second units as well as some excellent attention to detail on the defensive boards from the Heat. It’s difficult to imagine Boston repeating that type of performance once it’s win-or-go-home time. This team has lost in the playoffs before but they’ve generally gone down kicking and screaming.
As difficult as it might be to do following such a massive loss to a major rival, it’s probably best for Celtics fans to let this one go. Miami played – by all accounts – its most intense, focused game of the season. Boston really failed to show up in numerous ways.
The Paul Pierce / Ray Allen / Kevin Garnett trio has done more than enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. But, then again, they're not really the heart of the issue. It's everybody else, and the relationship between everyone else and the Big 3.
So if you, Celtics fan, are feeling a bit nervous after this one, no one would blame you.