THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Whole different outlook

Reactions reversed from Celtics’ side

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 22, 2011

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Ignore the scores and listen strictly to the reactions, and it’s hard to tell which team is up two games and which is in a two-game hole.

The Knicks would be the team in the ditch.

They squandered a chance to steal Game 1 against the Celtics on the road. They felt confident that they could win Game 2, even though they’d have to do it with point guard Chauncey Billups on the bench with a sore knee. They lost that one — and in the process lost franchise player Amar’e Stoudemire to back spasms — yet they’re no less sure of themselves.

“We’re still confident,’’ said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “Again, as they say, it doesn’t start until somebody wins at the other guy’s court.’’

The Celtics are the team with the two-game lead and a chance to close out the series with two more wins, starting tonight at Madison Square Garden.

But they’re staring at their wins like moles on a supermodel. Too many offensive rebounds. Too many second-chance points. Not enough execution.

“It’d be different if we won each game by 15, 20 points,’’ said guard Ray Allen. “You try and find ways to improve, but right now, it’s evident. It’s staring us in the face. We can be better.

“It’s not like folks are fishing. I’m not fishing. It’s just certain things that I see out there that I know can be better.’’

To be clear, the Celtics have beaten the Knicks in all four regular-season meetings, two playoff games, and even two preseason games. Yet there’s a Twilight Zone backwardness about their attitude going into Game 3.

“That means that we’ve raised the bar on who we are, that’s a good thing,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “You’ve won two games, and [for] the team that has won, the talk is they have to play better. The team that lost is like, ‘Wow, we did a great job.’ ’’

The Celtics haven’t been at their sharpest. They’ve fallen into double-digit holes. They’ve blown double-digit leads. But in the fourth quarter, when the game becomes a tossup, they’ve been sharp enough.

“There was a point where I looked at the statistics and they were shooting under 40 percent and it was a 1-point game,’’ Allen said. “We were playing good defense, but they were getting second-chance opportunities, and it was just small little things that we could correct.’’

The bench has been startlingly ineffective. Paul Pierce was clearly frustrated after the starters handed the reserves a 10-point first-quarter lead in Game 2 and the bench coughed it up in less than three minutes. Rivers said he needed more from Glen Davis, the leader on the second unit, and Jeff Green, the piece they added at the trade deadline.

“We’re energy players,’’ Davis said. “We have to do a better job of matching the intensity of the other team’s energy players.’’

After beating the Knicks on the boards by 10 in the opener, the Celtics were dominated on the glass in Game 2, 53-37.

“They’re not even trying to get some rebounds,’’ Rivers said. “They’re just trying to keep the ball alive as long as possible. They feel they have a speed advantage.’’

Much of the swing had to do with Jermaine O’Neal sitting on the bench for the second half with a sore left wrist. But Rivers said the reason O’Neal was sitting had more to do with the Knicks going smaller, making Davis a better option.

Still, the decision was a tough one with O’Neal playing so well in Game 1. Rivers said he had no reservations about keeping O’Neal on the floor.

“He’s fine, he can play more minutes,” Rivers said. “He knows that.’’

Shaquille O’Neal traveled with the team yesterday, a sign that he could possibly be healthy enough to play in Game 4 Sunday, but not at all a guarantee.

In the meantime, the Celtics will go on pretending they’re the ones climbing out of a hole.

“This team is not going away,’’ Allen said. “We’re not going to beat this team because they’re a lower seed than we are. We can win every game in my mind by 1 point and I’m happy and move on.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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