Being down 2-0 after squandering halftime leads in Game 1 and Game 2 is not a situation the Boston Celtics want to be in, but that does not mean the veteran Celts should be counted out of their first-round series with the New York Knicks.
Despite their scoring struggles against the Knicks' rejuvenated defense, this Boston squad is down but not out, especially as long as they have Doc Rivers pacing the sidelines.
The Celtics head home to a sure-to-be-electric TD Garden in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy after late surges and Carmelo Anthony's explosive scoring gave the Knicks two comfortable wins to open the Eastern Conference's two-seven matchup.
New York's defense has been a major reason that the Celtics face a 2-0 hole, as the Knicks have held them to just 25 points in the second half of Game 1 and a mere 23 in the second half of Game 2. But there have also been some extenuating circumstances at work.
Kevin Garnett posted a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double in Game 2, but played just 24 minutes due to foul trouble. Rivers himself deemed the fouls "horrendous," especially after the team had looked to establish Garnett early on the offensive end.
Boston was playing well slinging the ball into KG in the early stages of the game, but after some questionable officiating the team was forced to play small, with heavy minutes of Brandon Bass at center.
Bass rebounded well, snatching 10 boards, but he scored just six points on 2-of-6 shooting in 34 minutes. Bass is a good midrange jump shooter, but the offense cannot flow through him like it can with Garnett, and it was clear the fouls threw a wrench in Rivers' plan.
Beyond just the Garnett change, Rivers made other promising adjustments in Game 2 that should carry over into Game 3.
After watching his bench score just four points and not notch a single field goal in Game 1, Rivers recognized that the solution was not to rely more on the starters, but to give the bench more minutes to get comfortable and develop a rhythm.
Jordan Crawford's minutes jumped from just under 11 in Game 1 to 25 in Game 2, and his scoring increased to 10 points from zero, while Jason Terry played a whopping 34 minutes in Game 2 and upped his scoring to 9 points from zero, connecting on some three balls and dishing out a few assists.
Rivers rode Crawford and Terry while significantly reducing Courtney Lee's minutes. Lee is an impact player defensively, but Boston has been struggling not to string stops together but to score, and Rivers clearly recognized that in making the decision to keep Lee primarily on the pine.
Rivers has a habit of not trusting younger players, particularly in the postseason, but he has grown more trusting recently, particularly of Jeff Green and Avery Bradley, who need to play well for the Celtics to have any shot of stealing a few games, let alone the series.
On the defensive end of the court, Rivers' decision to put Bass on Carmelo Anthony has actually worked out pretty well. Anthony is averaging a blistering 35 points per game, but is shooting just 45.3 percent and a lot of his open looks are the result of offensive rebounds and kick-outs, not halfcourt offensive sets. He has also posted just two assists in the two playoff games.
One constant throughout Rivers' tenure with the Celtics has been his ability to motivate his players in the postseason. Boston has had great regular-season success under Rivers, but they have always been a team geared more towards the slower pace of the postseason.
With their backs against the wall and Garnett hampered by injuries, this team needs to come together and find the sense of urgency that it seems to have lacked during the mediocre 41-40 regular season.
Rivers needs to find a way to bring back the "ubuntu"-style unity that propelled the team to the 2008 NBA title and the rest of its recent playoff success.
With Rondo out and the team's season looking over, Rivers adjusted his offensive philosophy and helped the Celtics reel off a seven-game win streak to secure their playoff hopes. He changed the offense to focus more on Paul Pierce as a facilitator and rely on a pass-and-cut motion offense in place of the usual style, which was more predicated upon floor spacing for Rondo.
In Game 1, Bradley shredded New York's defense with his off-ball slashing, but the team somewhat got away from that in Game 2, where he registered just six points on 2-of-5 shooting.
Since the team's offense has now sputtered down the stretch twice, he needs to again go back to the drawing board and make some changes to create some easy looks. Whether that comes in the form of continuing to establish KG or moving Pierce more off the ball, it's clear that Rivers has the talent to make adjustments on the fly.
Boston has dug itself a pretty deep hole against the Knicks, but with Rivers at the helm the Celtics have not yet buried themselves. It won't be easy for them to rally, but with Doc Rivers leading the charge this team simply cannot yet be counted out.
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