Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 25, 2013

Celtics Appear Ready For Golf Season, Not Postseason

The first round NBA playoff series between Boston and New York isn’t over. There are still games to be played, and as regular readers know I never tire of reminding fans that there is always a reason why the games are actually played. Sometimes favorites are upset; sometimes unlikely heroes emerge. But as the series shifts from midtown Manhattan to Causeway Street in Boston the results of the first two games have only confirmed what became apparent during the regular season. Power in the Atlantic Division has moved down the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts Bay. While ultimate power in the Eastern Conference still resides in Miami, the players with the best chance to surprise the Heat no longer wear green and white uniforms.

As the Celtics stumbled through the final month of the regular season schedule, losing eleven of their last sixteen contests to finish just a single game over .500, loyal fans were hoping for a repeat of the 2010 postseason. After a blistering start that Boston squad played mediocre basketball for the final two-thirds of the regular season, but the players kept assuring anyone who would listen that once the playoffs began they would be able to “flip the switch” and play at a higher level. Remarkably enough they did just that, disposing of Miami, Cleveland and Orlando in the three rounds of conference play to set up a Finals match against their old rivals from Los Angeles. The Lakers were the defending champions while no one could quite figure out how the Celtics had managed to claim the Eastern Conference crown, but Boston took L.A. to the full seven games before finally falling.

But that Celtics team won 20 of their first 24 regular season games and 50 in all, while finishing first in the Atlantic Division for the third straight year. While only fourth in the Conference, that seeding at least meant that they had home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. This season’s squad was looking up in the standings at New York from the very first tipoff. Their one stretch of inspired play came in late January and early February after point guard Rajon Rondo was lost for the season with a torn ACL. But since they began that stretch of seven consecutive wins three games below .500, all it did was restore them to some pale measure of respectability. As the season wore on and they fell further and further behind the Knicks, eventually they were also passed by the Nets. Rejuvenated by their move from New Jersey across the Hudson and East Rivers to Brooklyn, the Nets would chase their cross town rivals for months before finally settling for second place in the Division. Boston’s third place finish ended a string of five straight Atlantic Division titles, and as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference they opened the postseason on the road.

More specifically, they opened at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. The four regular season contests between the two teams were fair warning to Celtics fans. After posting a 102-96 win in their first meeting back in early January, Boston lost the remaining three matchups including both games played at the TD Garden. Over five days in the final week of March the Celtics were first humbled at home by 15 points, and then virtually run out of the Knicks’ arena in a 19-point drubbing. Carmelo Anthony scored 29 and 24 points in those two games, offensive production which now looks like just a warm-up for what he was going to do in the playoffs.

In the opener of the playoff series last Saturday, Anthony scored 10 the New York’s first 12 points and finished with 36 as the Knicks won 85-78. The Celtics actually clung to a 3-point lead at the end of the 3rd quarter, only to go stone cold in the final twelve minutes. Boston netted just 8 points in the final quarter and only 25 in the second half. Throughout the game the Celtics contributed mightily to their own demise by committing 21 turnovers that led to 20 points for the Knicks.

Three nights later Anthony dominated again, leading all scorers with 34 points. Once again Boston collapsed down the stretch, allowing a 6-point halftime lead to turn into a 16-point deficit at the final buzzer. Their second half output of a mere 23 points was even worse than in Game One.

But while Anthony has been the star, the Knicks have simply been the better team in every aspect of the game. On offense Anthony has had plenty of support, with J.R. Smith averaging 17 points and Raymond Felton 14.5. On defense New York has held Boston to 39.3 percent shooting, and those miserable second half numbers. Kenyon Martin, the 35-year old forward signed by New York in February, has matched the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett with 20 rebounds and leads all players with 6 blocked shots. Through the first two games Boston’s offensive rating, a statistic that measures points per 100 possessions is 84. If this were the regular season, that number would rank the Celtics at the bottom of the entire league by a wide margin.

This first round series isn’t over, and there are still games to be played. Friday night the Celtics will play their first home game in more than two weeks. For the first time since the Marathon bombings Celtics fans will pack the TD Garden. Emotions will be high, and it will not be remotely surprising if the C’s ride that wave to a victory in Game Three. There is a reason they actually play the games, and every once in a great while emotions can carry not just a game, but the day. More often than not though, the end result in any multi-game series irrespective of the sport is about talent and teamwork, not emotion. Through four regular season meetings and the first two games of this playoff series, when it comes to talent and teamwork, these Celtics appear to be no match for Carmelo’s Knicks.

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