NEW YORK – The visitor's locker room at Madison Square Garden just seemed darker following the Celtics' 87-71 loss to the Knicks in Game 2. Players shuffled in and out without saying much of anything. When Avery Bradley was done talking to the media, he just kind of sat there, staring blankly ahead. Kevin Garnett was barely audible as he sat at an empty locker.
The team's problems were written on their faces and in the words of head coach Doc Rivers, who dropped several references to his team being inferior to the opponent.
"We are who we are. We can't apologize for that."
"I think Paul was playing pretty well. He started getting tired in the second half because he tried to do everything."
"We don't have 50 points on our bench."
After Tuesday's game, a member of the New York media said of the Celtics, "Their bench is the Washington Wizards."
All of these things are true. The Celtics can't score or rebound. They can't defend Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith. At one point the Knicks trotted out a lineup with three point guards; the Celtics don't have one on their roster.
The warning signs were there. Ten days before the playoffs I wrote that the Celtics' lack of offense was going to spell big trouble against the Knicks, that the Celtics really haven't been able to score effectively since 2009 (2009!). I predicted the Celtics would lose the series in five games. With the press box buzzing that the Celtics would get back on track Tuesday night, I mentioned to ESPN Boston colleague Greg Payne that the Celtics were going to lose by 15.
All of that is a conceited way of saying I agree with colleagues Gary Washburn and Dan Shaughnessy when they write that the Celtics look finished. If not done they're certainly overmatched. Winning four of the next five games against the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference seems like a tall task.
The Knicks have many ways to win, while the Celtics have to pitch a somewhat perfect game. But we've seen them do it before, as recently as last year. Rather than focus on the negative – while acknowledging that it won't be easy – here are some reasons the Celtics can come back and make this a series.
– Kevin Garnett has yet to be that Kevin Garnett (And in Game 2 it wasn't his fault):
Garnett averaged 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds in a dominant 2011-2012 postseason. The minutes restriction is off the Celtics big man, but he ran into foul trouble Tuesday night and only saw 24 minutes of action. The Celtics can't afford to play KG 24 minutes and win a game. Garnett has an advantage against Tyson Chandler, who is playing with a neck injury, and KG has a definite mismatch against Chris Copeland or whomever else the Knicks throw at him.
– The Celtics are going home:
The C's were 27-13 at home this season and are 14-27 on the road. They haven't been good away from TD Garden all year, so the developments of the last two games haven't been surprising. If the C's can hold homecourt and steal one game on the road, they can win the series.
– The defense has been solid:
The Celtics keep saying that if they hold the Knicks under 90 points and 45 percent shooting they've got a shot. It hasn't worked out in the first two games, but the Celtics have also taken leads into the second half. I truly believe they're fine with Anthony getting his points so long as everyone else is limited. Their defense is keeping them in games, now they've got to work on not falling apart.
"I like the way we defend," said Pierce. "The Knicks score 100 points a game. We're holding them to under 90 for two games. I'm happy with the way we're defending. Melo is having his big games, we understand that. He's a great player, he's going to get his looks. Overall defensively we're playing at the level we want to play at. If we're able to turn the offense around a little bit I like our chances."
– The bench woke up in Game 2 (briefly):
Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford combined for 14 points in the first half of Game 2 after failing to score in Game 1. Many of Terry's points came in transition. The Celtics need to continue to push the ball ahead.
– They're mad:
Garnett and Pierce will be fired up. Courtney Lee only played four minutes in Game 2, so he's got a reason to be upset. Said Bradley, "After these two losses you definitely feel like it's payback time. Everybody's mad in here, and we can't wait until the next game."
– The schedule:
The series is set up in such a way that neither team has the chance to get any kind of momentum. The teams don't play again until Friday. Tired legs shouldn't be a factor.
– The offense can't get any worse:
From Sheridan Hoops: The Boston Celtics – the most storied franchise in NBA history –competed in 593 playoff games over an illustrious 67-year history. Just twice has Boston managed to score 25 points or fewer in the second half of a playoff game, both of which have come in just the past three days against the Knicks.
What do you think? Do the C's have any shot?