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Support system didn’t respond to call

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 15, 2012
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A night like this was expected, when the engine on Kevin Garnett’s time machine was going to sputter and Paul Pierce’s left knee would prevent him from creating any space from Andre Iguodala.

The Celtics desperately needed offensive support from someone other than their Big Two. They needed a reserve or secondary contributor to produce and show enough guile to help the Celtics avoid scoring skids against the brutally difficult Philadelphia defense.

That didn’t happen Monday and Boston was dealt an 82-81 loss in Game 2 at TD Garden, handing over home-court advantage as Philadelphia returns home for two games with a legitimate chance to take control of the series.

After flirting with putting the 76ers away early, the Celtics had little to offer offensively for the next two quarters. And it wasn’t Garnett’s issue; he managed to hit 7 of 12 shots despite being tripled-teamed in stretches.

Meanwhile, Pierce may not be an offensive factor in this series. Iguodala is one of the game’s top defenders and against a wobbly Pierce, he is even more effective. The Celtics tried to work Pierce into the offense down the stretch and he couldn’t deliver. He was 0-for-4 shooting with 2 points in the second half, when the Celtics only needed one final push to prevail.

“[They] are who we thought they are,’’ Pierce said, channeling his inner Dennis Green. “They are a tough defensive team, they grind it out defensively, they try the fast break and they’re not going to give in. They have a good coach over there who installs his mentality into his players so nothing is surprising, they are what we expected them to be.’’

But Pierce can be excused for this one. The Celtics needed help from some unlikely source, they needed Brandon Bass or (a healthy) Avery Bradley or Keyon Dooling to step up. Ray Allen did all he could, scoring 17 points but with Bradley out with a shoulder injury for two quarters, Allen played starters’ minutes.

Bass missed 10 of 15 shots, the most attempts of any Celtic in Game 2. The 76ers decided to double Garnett, sending a defender whenever he received the ball in the post, which allowed Bass to roam to some of his favorite spots on the floor for his midrange jumper, but he couldn’t convert.

The Celtics were grinding without a major contribution from Garnett in the first half as the resurgent veteran attempted just three shots in 15 minutes. The Sixers astutely forced Bass into a scoring role, practically inviting him to shoot from the perimeter. After hitting his first two shots of the game, Bass missed nine of his next 10, looking as if his confidence had been squeezed from his psyche after a series of subpar games.

Bass developed into a dependable fourth scorer during the regular season but has been frazzled at times by the bright lights of the postseason. He is shooting 40 percent from the field in the postseason after shooting nearly 48 percent during the regular season.

Bass’s offensive struggles rob the Celtics of a reliable shooter from the perimeter that can set screens, then shoot when the defense chooses to defend Rajon Rondo. The Celtics desperately needed a breakout game from one of their complements, given Pierce was still nursing a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and Garnett couldn’t possibly be depended on to produce the 57-point, 25-rebound combined performance of the previous two games.

“I wasn’t real happy or proud with the way we played offense,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t like the way that we took, to me, almost three quarters to play the right way offensively. Listen, we knew the blueprint before the game. It took us almost three quarters to get into it.’’

While Rivers has lauded his reserves for their defensive effort, none has stepped to the forefront offensively, most notably Mickael Pietrus, who missed two of his first three shots Monday, dropping him to 5-for-20 shooting for the series and 2 of 17 from the 3-point line before he came alive in the fourth quarter.

There was a time when Pietrus shot the ball with fluidity. Now when he releases one of his reluctant, rainbow 3-pointers, his lack of confidence is apparent. He is crossing his fingers, hoping they go in. They weren’t, until a fourth-quarter stretch when he drained a critical long-range shot from the corner and then, surging with confidence, canned another from the near the top of the key to slice the deficit to 61-59.

Rivers lamented his team’s lack of offensive execution as a whole, blaming their approach and dependence on Garnett.

“I think so,’’ Rivers said when asked if the Celtics need a third scorer. “But I think we’ve just got to play right. We’ve got to move the ball. It was no coincidence, again when that one [reserve] group was in, they spaced the floor, they trapped Kevin the same way they’ve been trapping him and we got layups and wide open threes. We have to do that first and then find out if somebody else has to step up.’’

The 76ers are good enough defensively to expose any team’s offensive weakness and the Celtics have plenty. Before they watch their Big Three Era end prematurely, the Celtics need someone besides that trio to respond with buckets.

They have been getting by riding the back of Garnett for a few games, but those days may be over. So who’s going to step up next?

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.

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