THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

This result a bit hard to get past

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 2, 2011

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MIAMI — With all due respect to that team playing its home games in Madison Square Garden, actual playoff competition began for the Celtics yesterday afternoon.

That is to say, some honest-to-God defense was played.

Let’s get serious. The Knicks made a stab at playing professional defense during Games 1 and 2 in Boston, but coming away down, 0-2, despite their sincere effort to D-up must have taken the heart out of them, because once they got home they fulfilled every Mike “No’’ D’Antoni stereotype. The Celtics played a private, unguarded, no hand in the face intrasquad shooting game for two games and came away with a misleading sweep.

It took about two or three possessions yesterday for the Celtics to realize the fun was over, that now they’d be playing a team that was interested in, and capable of, playing defense. There were many reasons for Miami’s 99-90 series-opening victory, but we can start with the fact that the Celtics actually had to work to get a decent shot, and by the time they established some kind of decent rhythm, they were in catch-up mode, and they never would recover.

That horrible start against a legitimate D was the big story, that and allowing sub James Jones to go off for a killing playoff-career-high 25 points. Dwyane Wade had 38, but so what? He’s Dwyane Wade. LeBron James played a superb all-around game, but the Celtics gladly would live with repeat performances of his 22. This game wasn’t about the Celtics’ defense. It was about their difficulty in solving the Miami defense, at least until it was too late.

The Celtics are proud and confident, and they didn’t want to concede too much. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league by all the numbers,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “You knew it would be harder to get good shots; you knew it would be this type of game. [But] if it’s going to be harder, we need to make it harder at both ends. We are a good defensive, team, too.’’

Did he say something about numbers? Here’s a number: In the first 16 minutes of the game, the Celtics were 7 for 27 from the floor, at which point they were trailing by 10 at 29-19, and the game’s tone had been set. They would get it as close as 4 (32-28) and they would fall behind by as many as 19 (55-36), but anyone who understands the inevitable ebb and flow of the typical NBA game, playoffs or otherwise, knows that games can be lost early and this surely was one of them. A better start might have changed everything.

That’s Ray Allen’s thinking, anyway.

“Just the way we started with the first few possessions,’’ he said. “We did not set a tone. You have to give them credit, but we took it as what we didn’t do offensively.’’

Offense and defense are so often interconnected, and Rivers would cite this game as Exhibit A. The ineffective offense created a problem at the other end, as well.

“I just thought early on we were so eager to score — we call it being ‘thirsty’ — that we never allowed the offense to take,’’ Rivers said. “We never got to the second pass and we never got to the second options. I thought we were very easy to guard.’’

Though the teams benefited equally in terms of points off turnovers (26 each), Boston’s mattered far more because so many were in the game’s formative stages. “You can’t turn the ball over, and we gifted [26] points,’’ Rivers said. “We gifted about 10 more on bad shots. We call some bad shots turnovers.’’

Understand that Allen was being asked about the team as a whole, not himself. Truth be told, he was the only starter doing anything. At halftime, he was 5 for 8. But Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were a combined 3 for 8 (the “8’’ tells you all you need to know).

And then there was Rajon Rondo.

Or was there?

The universal pregame opinion was that the one area of extreme Boston superiority in this matchup would be point guard. The Heat had no one who could contend with Rondo. They still don’t. But they got away with this one, in part, because the real Rajon Rondo didn’t show up until the second half, thanks to a combination of three personals and, well, who knows?

Let’s put it this way: When Rondo’s first assist of the game comes with 9:07 remaining in the third quarter, the Celtics are in very deep trouble.

After bottoming out at that 7-for-27 juncture, the Celtics actually shot better than 50 percent for the rest of the game. Presumably, they will do a little soul-searching over the next two days. It would be advisable for them to ’fess up and admit that life had gotten far too easy during those two games in Madison Square Garden and that they need to be a lot more focused on what they’re doing when they have the ball than they were in the first quarter and a half yesterday. A similar mental approach tomorrow night will guarantee an 0-2 start in this series.

The coach seems to get it. “Give them credit,’’ Rivers said. “I thought they were prepared, they were ready, they played with unbelievable intensity, and I didn’t think we handled that very well.’’

Doc should start by calling the team together and then burning the tapes of Games 3 and 4 against the Knicks. They have no relevance to what’s going on now. What’s taking place in AmericanAirlines Arena and TD Garden is actual playoff basketball.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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