BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics finally return to the TD Garden Friday night for Game 3 of their playoff series against the New York Knicks, staring up at an 0-2 hole.
So it should come as no surprise the word “desperation” has crept into the team’s vocabulary.
“That’s what it is right now,” Captain Paul Pierce said at the team’s practice on Thursday. “We have to be a desperate team right now; backs against the wall and we have two home games. Just because it’s a home game doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed win. We have to play like a desperate team with a huge sense of urgency, because with Game 3 our season is on the line. When you go down 3-0, your percentage goes way down. We want to give ourselves the best chance to win this series, so this is the biggest game of the series so far.”
“You get down 0-2 to a good team that is playing really well, in a good rhythm, desperation is definitely into play,” echoed Kevin Garnett, who has struggled to find his own rhythm during the series. “This is it; we can’t go down 0-3 to any team. It’s a very difficult situation to put yourself into.”
The Celtics find themselves in the hole thanks to a pair of uninspiring second halves in New York. In each game the C’s have lost their way after halftime, scoring just 48 total points in the two losses. Their slim leads have turned into insurmountable deficits, leaving the head coach Doc Rivers searching for answers.
“We’ve come out flat twice and I don’t know why that is,” said Rivers. “We’re not organized offensively the way we should be. You’re going to have to play some half court in the playoffs; we knew that going into the series but we haven’t handled it well.”
While the Celtics weathered the storm without point guard Rajon Rondo during the regular season, now that the playoffs have begun they truly miss his playmaking abilities. The Knicks are putting pressure on whoever is bringing the ball up the floor for Boston – more times than not it’s Mr. Everything, Paul Pierce – and are not letting the Celtics push the tempo.
This is turning Boston into a team that sits and waits for something to happen, rather than a team in motion that makes something happen.
“Right now we are a first option team and then stand around and watch,” said Rivers. “You get into those ruts during the regular season, you can’t score unless the guy holding the ball is having a magnificent game. We’re not built that way – the Knicks are actually built that way. It’s just not who we are, and we have to keep that understanding.”
While Pierce has drawn Superman comparisons throughout his career, asking the 35-year-old version to do it all – not just on offense, but also the handing him the task of guarding scoring champ Carmelo Anthony – is proving to be too much. That won’t stop Pierce, who leads the Celtics at 19.5 points and 6.5 assists per game this series, from doing his best Swiss Army knife impression, but he knows if the Celtics don’t buckle down on the defensive end, the offense will keep struggling.
“I have to keep doing what I’m doing, probably shoot a higher percentage and turn the ball over less,” he said. “But we have to defend for four quarters; we can’t do it for 2 ½ quarters each night. We let our guard down in the third quarter in both games, and that’s when they were able to make their run.”
For the last two days, Rivers has tried to figure out ways to get his team going. He said he will rely more on Jordan Crawford off the bench, in hopes that the score-in-bunches guard can give the Celtics anemic offense a boost.
But the Celtics will need much more than Jordan Crawford off the bench. Jeff Green, who scored 20 points in the first half of Game 1, has just 16 points in the three halves since. Jason Terry scored nine points in Game 2, but that accounts for all his points in the series so far. Kevin Garnett has battled both fatigue and the officiating, but the 36-year-old needs to find his rhythm fast if he wants to avoid the eighth one-and-done series of his postseason career.
Without Rondo, the Celtics need Paul Pierce to do it all and he is more than willing to step up to the challenge. But it’s clear that Pierce needs help – and a lot of it – and if he doesn’t get it soon, the word “desperate” won’t matter for much longer.