The Celtics didn’t lose because Kevin Garnett wasn’t playing, nor did they lose because guard Courtney Lee was out for his second straight game as well.
The Boston Celtics have lost their fifth consecutive game because the effects of their early season plague of injuries have begun to manifest themselves, they gave up triple digits for the third consecutive game because they can’t take care of the basketball and haven’t been able to box out on the defensive glass…
…and they lost on Tuesday night because they are a team that couldn’t afford even one more injury, yet two of their starters were in street clothes, helpless witnesses to the carnage.
Ah yes, the carnage.
Any time that teams from Boston and New York get together, it’s time to break out the catch phrases and antiquated cliches, like carnage, bedlam, donnybrook – though tonight words such as domination and phrases like “Opening a can” and “Dragged behind the woodshed” would be more appropriate.
J.R. Smith scored a game high 32 points off the bench and Carmello Anthony chipped in with 29 as the New York Knicks stomped the Celtics like a bunch of green grapes, 100-85 at TD Garden on Tuesday evening. No other Knick scored in double figures as the Atlantic Division leaders improved their record to 43-26, overtaking the Indiana Pacers for the second seed in the Eastern Conference in the process.
Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford replaced the two injured Celtics in their starting lineup, both posting solid numbers. In fact, the Celtics were significantly more balanced than the top-heavy Knicks, but still suffered the abysmal loss. Green posted 19 points and grabbed 10 boards and Crawford 14 and 4, both dishing out a half dozen dimes each.
Paul Pierce scored 16, Brandon Bass 11 and Jason Terry had 10 off the bench, but Boston’s 20 turnovers and no presence in the paint on either end of the floor doomed them from the start.
A competitive opening quarter found the Celtics trailing by just 4 at the buzzer despite giving up 30 points, then tied the game at the four minute mark of the second – but one 14-0 run later and the outcome was decided as the Celtics just didn’t have the weapons available to overcome their sloppy passing and invisibility under the basket.
Boston’s 20 turnovers, compared to just 8 for the Knicks, combined with giving up an absurd 15 offensive rebounds gave New York 21 extra possessions and, not surprisingly, 42 extra points that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Game, set, match.
The Celtics showed a lot of heart holding the deficit to the final 15 point disparity, but without Garnett on the floor the Celtics had no size advantage anywhere and the lane was like a big wide sidewalk in the park.
This all sounds like a cheap cop-out – and it is – but the truth of the matter is that Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers was holding this team together with duct tape and prayer, and his Basketball Gods we’re onto his act from the start, as was Smith.
“It feels like they didn’t have any shot blockers,” Smith said. “So I take it to the basket, draw fouls, find some teammates that get open and play from there.”
It’s as simple as that, and Garnett won’t be back until Easter, suffering swelling in an ankle.
This was an important game for Boston. Coming in they were trailing the Knicks by 6 1/2 games in the division and were sitting solidly as the 7th seed with a chance to make a move and hopefully improve their seeding, perhaps as high as number four…a win would have been a move in the positive direction for playoff seeding and would they would have gained a full game in the standing on New York…
…but now, with just 13 games to play they have virtually eliminated themselves from division title contention and have given hope to the eighth seeded Milwaukee Bucks that they can overtake the Celtics for the 7th seed and avoid a first round stomping from the reigning champions Miami Heat.
And yet it is a bumpy road yet left for the Knicks. Wednesday begins a 3 game homestand with the Memphis Grizzlies followed by visits from the Bobcats and Celtics on Friday and Sunday respectively before hitting the road next week with games at Miami and Atlanta.
The Celtics have a considerably smoother path to finish out the season, with only four of their 13 opponents headed for the playoffs. Wednesday finds the Celtics in Cleveland for the pesky Cavaliers and their rebounding machines, returning home to host the Hawks on Friday night then headed to New York for a rematch with the Knicks on Sunday.
Given all of the struggles for the Celtics this season, particularly with injuries, it’s a minor miracle that Rivers has been able to hold the team together this long, and there’s still a chance that he can find a way to turn this losing streak around and climb back into contention for the Atlantic Division title, but to do so, it’s going to take getting back their players and buying another roll of duct tape…
…or maybe they can just give up losing for lent…