TYLOR TOURVILLEAs the Celtics dropped game 2 of their first round series against the New York Knicks this past Tuesday by a score of 87-71, it appears that this may spell the end of the Boston Celtics season, and possibly any notable playoff success in the future for that matter. As a persistent optimist in most situations, I think it is time to step back and look at this Celtics team for what it is – riddled with injuries, and an offense that is consistently inconsistent.
Going into the series against the Knicks, Celtics fans in general had a positive outlook. Sure, this team had their struggles and lost a lot of key players throughout the course of the season, but they still managed to finished 3 games above .500 and avoid playing Miami in the first round (although I would not have minded that, as noted in a previous BBS podcast). As soon as the playoffs started, we seemed to forget all of this and assume that the Celtics would “flip the switch” and blow through every round – an epic re-match with the Heat seemed inevitable. The Mr. Optimist in us was strong and ready for a long playoff run. Let’s take off those green-colored lenses and return to earth for minute.
This series versus the Knicks is almost a perfect microcosm of the Celtics’ regular season play. Defensively, they hold their own – the Celtics held the Knicks to 41.6% FG and 86 PPG. The red-hot Carmelo Anthony, averaging 35PPG in the first two games, is getting his points, but has just 2 assists in those two contests. 2013 6th Man of the Year JR Smith has averaged 17 PPG, but is only hitting 32% of his shots. The Celtics are doing everything they want to on defense – force one player to beat them, and take care of everyone else.
It is the offensive problems we have seen all season that will eventually be the nail in coffin of the Celtics’ season. This team overall can put together a decent offensive game on paper – they finished the season 6th in the NBA in Field Goal Percentage. However, as anyone who has watched even one Celtics game this year can attest to, this team goes through stretches where it cannot buy a basket. Three reasons why the offense was so anemic – the high turnovers (game one in particular), the bench’s inconsistency (I’m looking at you, Jet), and the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act that is Jeff Green. Yes, he can dunk over people and make bring you out of your seat. However he is so here-or-there that you cannot trust him to be the X-Factor that he needs to be in this series. Look at the first two games of this series: Game 1, he scores 26 points, game 2 he scores 10 points. Just that in itself should convince you, but it gets even more drastic – in the second half of the first two games, he is a combined 1-11 from the floor. Throw in the fact that he has 3 assists and 8 rebounds between the two games, and the point I am making is very clear. Is Green a talented, exciting player to watch? Of course, when he puts his mind to it. Has he been that consistent 2nd option on a team that needs offense? Absolutely not. Now I realize that Jeff Green is not the only one who has been underwhelming, especially in the playoffs so far for the Celtics. Kevin Garnett hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm due to foul trouble – Paul Pierce is trying to do too much and committing a lot of turnovers. And besides a couple of 3s in game two, where the heck has Jason Terry been?
The only exception to the example, and maybe an encouraging sign, is that the Celtics have held their own on the boards. They were even in game 1 at 40 apiece, and kept it close enough in game 2. They hold their own despite an opposition that features some strong rebounders such as Tyson Chandler and a Kenyon Martin with something to prove (why didn’t the Celtics pursue him again?).
As the Celtics come home to the friendly confines of the TD Garden, they certainly have the potential to win one or both games at home, especially with their backs against the wall. But haven’t their backs been against the wall all year, considering all of the adversity they have faced? As I stated in the podcast this week (Take a listen!), the Celtics might show us flashes of what they could be, but will ultimately fall in 6 games to the Knicks. Even if they surprise me and win this series, I still have my doubts in the next round, no matter who they play. The Bulls always give the Celtics trouble defensively, especially anyone who has the pleasure of being guarded by Luol Deng, and the Nets have the size and rebounding (a Celtics weakness) to go along with an all-star point guard in Deron Williams. The Celtics going down 0-2 against the Knicks is a harsh realization that their run of playoff success might be coming to an end. First of all, they are down to the Knicks, a team that the Celtics beat last year (in a 2 v 7 match-up, but with the seeds reversed) and secondly, everyone around them (the Nets in particular in addition to the Knicks) seems to be getting better from year to year except them.
That was the Mr. pessimist side of me that I have been suppressing for so long about this Celtics team. The Mr. optimist part of me, however, is still fighting, telling me that this team will eventually realize what is at stake and play like the championship contender that their fans know they can be. However, the task of overcoming an 0-2 deficit against a confident team with a Carmelo Anthony looking to break through and change his legacy? Beating the Celtics has become a rite of passage for teams to go to the finals. Look at the Heat, look at the Magic when they went to the NBA Finals a few years ago. The Knicks appear to be next in line (good luck against the Heat though). As of right now, things are not looking so great for Mr. Optimist – but that does not mean he will go down without a fight.