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Their paint work needs touching up

Rajon Rondo and his teammates can’t close their eyes to their defensive deficiencies. Rajon Rondo and his teammates can’t close their eyes to their defensive deficiencies. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 30, 2012
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MIAMI - Frustration turned into embarrassment, which turned into reflection and then into reality Tuesday afternoon for the Celtics.

It’s not that they have any plans to deliver forearm shivers to the chops of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, but after allowing the Heat to repeatedly drive the lane unimpeded in Game 1, their defensive intensity has to increase.

Rajon Rondo was frustrated when he was asked if the Celtics needed to offer more resistance.

“Nothing dirty, but they have to hit the deck, too,’’ Rondo said.

But such thoughts of blasting James and Wade when they approach the paint are absurd. It is not in the Celtics’ nature to be overly physical or borderline flagrant. They don’t have an enforcer (he was traded to Oklahoma City in 2011 and is now applying stonewall screens and intimidating opponents with nasty scowls).

The Celtics don’t have such personnel, among their starters or reserves. The only one who could potentially deliver hard fouls is backup center Ryan Hollins, who is more prone to elbow James accidentally than inflict any harm on purpose.

Physicality is not their personality, but the Celtics have to be tougher if they are to stand any chance in this series. The officials cannot be the object of their anger. They have to turn their frustration into focus because the Heat bury teams that have short attention spans. James cannot be allowed to drift to the other end of the court when the Celtics are shooting.

The Celtics cannot fire careless passes, allowing Wade and James to play their two-man passing game for an uncontested dunk. The Heat’s athleticism not only allows them to make up for defensive mistakes, they also feast on loose balls and errant passes.

So Rondo wasn’t encouraging his teammates to take a page out of the Pistons “bad boy playbook’’ but rather play with more movement and provide more opposition.

“We have 15 guys. Nothing flagrant, nothing dirty,’’ Rondo said Tuesday. “When we drove, we hit the deck a lot. If we keep them out of the paint, it would be even better.

“Like I said, that’s hard for us to do, but we’ll find a way. We’ve just got to be solid. We just have to make them compete at a high level, get into the ball a little bit more, try to defend the cutters.’’

Competitiveness was an issue Monday, and it overshadowed missed shots and free throws. The Celtics should now know what to expect from a Miami team without Chris Bosh. The Heat’s presentation wasn’t overwhelming. Miami looked more dominant in the Indiana series, which gives the Celtics a glimmer of hope that they can steal home-court advantage with a Game 2 victory.

But the question is whether such a wildly inconsistent team (remember the 76ers series) is capable of consistency against the Eastern Conference’s best. Can they accept James and Wade being the best players on the court but respond by being the better team?

That will take a mammoth contribution from Paul Pierce, a renaissance game from the hobbling Ray Allen, and a fierce interior game from Kevin Garnett.

“Everything can’t be so simple and so easy [for them],’’ Garnett said. “You have to put some type of impact, some type of defensive impact into the game.

“When you’re playing a team on the road, you try to make it as uncomfortable as you can. You are playing against two of the greatest to ever play the game, guys who are offensively gifted, high basketball IQs, you have to be cohesive. You have to be together. You have to understand strategies and plans. The margin of error is very small at that point.’’

Perhaps not as small as it would be if Bosh were in the lineup. The Celtics have to capitalize on Miami lacking a post presence with perimeter range. That means stopping dribble penetration so Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony are the recipients of easy James passes after he practically walks into the paint.

The Celtics were too daunted Monday by the prowess of James. They feared his offensive explosion at the rim, so they allowed him to pepper them with short jumpers and runners. His expansive arsenal allows him to torch teams without having to exert much effort.

In Game 1, the Celtics were patsies, and that’s what led Rondo to make his “hit the deck’’ declaration.

There is no need to adopt some new tough-guy personality. The Celtics have stymied teams over the years with stifling defense, and James can attest to that after being reduced to a midrange gunner in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals because the Celtics challenged every one of his dives to the basket.

The goal for the Celtics is not to send James and Wade to the locker room bloodied, but to create enough resistance to make them think before making casual trips into the paint. That’s the essence of Celtics’ defense.

Resistance, said coach Doc Rivers, “is not allowing them to have 19 layups. But that doesn’t mean physical as far as fouling and knocking people down.

“What we have to do is protect the paint better, we have to play better defense. If we do that, then our offense will be much better.’’

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

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