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Pierce and Allen need to fire it up

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 4, 2011

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MIAMI — Offensively the Celtics are in a state of confusion, stunning for a team that prides itself on chemistry and cohesion. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce stood helpless at times last night at AmericanAirlines Arena, unable to stop their counterparts or even counter with a basket of their own.

If last night’s 102-91 loss to the Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals were a two-on-two game, it would have been a skunk. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 63 points, Allen and Pierce 20. The veteran Celtics duo was embarrassed; to their credit neither player used injuries during the game as an excuse.

It wasn’t that they were inefficient, it was more that at times they actually seemed to be watching the action pass them by, even as the Celtics were fighting the Heat deep into the fourth quarter.

In that pivotal final period, the duo combined for 2-of-3 shooting for 6 points, all by Pierce. Neither was healthy. Pierce was kicked in the Achilles’ tendon in the first quarter and Allen took a James elbow to the chest in the third quarter. But they both came back into the game.

Both were passive, and both were left pondering the possibility that their Big Three era could be coming to a crashing conclusion unless they revert to vintage form. The Heat played stellar defense for stretches, but the reason the Celtics lost was that they lacked the teamwork to match Wade and James.

The Heat rely on one-on-one play because they have two of the best scorers in the game. Wade and James are unstoppable forces against single coverage, especially when their jumpers are falling, as was the case last night. Of James’s 25 shots, 15 were jumpers and he converted seven. That’s difficult to contain.

Wade wasn’t as sharp but he attempted 13 free throws, nine more than Pierce and Allen combined. In other words, the Heat’s scorers can pile up points in many ways, the Celtics’ haven’t. That has to change for Game 3.

“For us, we just have to keep it simple,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We have to get better ball movement and get the ball to the right guys. That is always on me. We are not a one-on-one team. Paul may be the only one that can beat guys on his own. It’s just not who we are. I thought [Glen Davis] was aggressive [but] . . . ’’

Davis, as only he can with his rumbling, tumbling style, tried to carry the offense in the fourth quarter and it resulted in 4 points on 1-of-4 shooting and three missed layups. He was out of sorts, trying to take on too much responsibility, but when none of his more heralded teammates stepped to the forefront, he felt he had no choice.

“I would agree with that,’’ Allen said when asked if the Heat are doing a better job of getting the ball to their stars. “Again, going back to them closing out quarters [with runs], the ball is either in LeBron’s or Wade’s hands and they made plays where they scored or they found the guy who scored. Down the stretch, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for myself or Paul. We didn’t have great fluidity down the stretch. We’ll work on it. We’ll get better.’’

The Celtics had trouble at the end of every quarter, which is a sign of fatigue and lack of execution. They can’t counter Miami’s haymakers; they don’t have those heavy punchers anymore.

Boston wins with relentlessness and calculating body shots that wear down opponents. We haven’t seen such cohesion so far in the first two games. The Celtics have gotten completely caught up in an up-tempo, individual game, and their Big Three no longer have the athleticism, respect from the officials, or stunning moves to compete with James or Wade.

They knew that going into the series. But it seems that Allen and Pierce have chosen passiveness over aggressiveness. Allen needs to take more shots. Seven in nearly 35 minutes is unacceptable. Pierce seemingly has chosen to pick and choose when to participate and make an impression on the game. He could use the Achilles’ as an out, but the Celtics desperately needed him to produce one of those vintage fourth quarters and he attempted two shots.

“We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and take on the task of stopping these guys,’’ Pierce said. “Our game is to make the extra pass, move the ball. We got down late in the fourth quarter, so we tried to force a little bit. But I thought before that we were moving the ball well, getting shots, ended up tying the game. But once they made their run, I think we got out of our sets and that’s what I mean when I say we’ve got to be more disciplined.’’

Celtics fans likely could accept their team going down with Pierce and Allen firing from their shoetops.

But what was discouraging about last night and most of Game 1 is that both are being too careful, too meticulous in a series that is calling for their dominance.

That’s the only way the Celtics will extend this series.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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