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Celtics face ultimate make-miss shot in Game 7

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 25, 2012 01:00 PM

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The Celtics' Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers has been a series of lost opportunities. Now, it has the potential to be a series that is just lost.

Reaching Game 7 for the Green has been like mindlessly following the siren song of a GPS to an unfamiliar address. You don't really grasp how you got there, but all that matters is that you arrived. So the Celtics are playing an elimination game tomorrow at TD Garden instead of taking their talents to South Beach for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat.

The Celtics are on the precipice of squandering a 3-2 series lead and an open invitation to reach the Eastern Conference final for the third time since 2008 after an 82-75 loss in Game 6 that was to basketball what City Hall Plaza is to urban aesthetics.

There are those who will point to the Celtics' uninspired first half of the regular season and their current collection of maladies (Avery Bradley's season-ending shoulder injury, Ray Allen's ankle and Paul Pierce's knee) and say the team has overachieved.

Painting the Celtics as the Little Team that Could makes for a nice story. However, in a postseason without Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard and with the Heat potentially sans their sole reliable big-man, Chris Bosh, bowing out to the upstart 76ers is not an acceptable denouement.

It simply is not, especially when you consider that the only reason this peculiar series is going the distance is because the Celtics have made goodwill donations to each of Philadelphia's wins.

In Game 2, the Celtics shot 23.5 percent in the third quarter. They basically ignored coach Doc Rivers' game plan and Kevin Garnett for three quarters. They battled back to take the lead late in a see-saw affair and still had a chance to tie trailing by 3 points with 12 seconds left. But Kevin Garnett was whistled for an illegal screen and Philly stole an 82-81 win.

In Game 4, the Celtics stormed out to a 14-0 lead against a Sixers team that had bowed its heads waiting for the guillotine to drop. They led by 18 in the third quarter. However, the Celtics shot just 11 of 35 in the second half and Rivers stuck with his small lineup too long in the fourth, as the Sixers escaped with a 92-83 win.

Game 6 saw an uninspired Celtics club deliver one of the worst-shooting performances of the New Big Three era -- 33 percent.

Further illustrating the point that the Celtics' losses in this series have been as much about their play as the 76ers is that Philadelphia's field goal percentage in its wins (41.2 percent) is lower than in its losses (43.8 percent). The 76ers have averaged 85.3 points per game in three victories and 89 points per game in three losses.

The 76ers have come up with some clutch shots and big plays from Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday. But the degree of difficulty involved in this series has largely been of the Celtics own doing.

It's easy to peg the Celtics procrastinating personality as the culprit, but it's also tied to their on-court identity.

Rivers' oft-repeated mantra is it's a make-miss league. Viewed through the prism of his own jump-shooting team, it really is. In the Celtics' three wins in the series they've shot 49.1 percent from the floor. In three losses they've shot 39 percent.

The Celtics are a make-miss lot because they're a jump-shooting one. According to NBA.com stats, 26.6 percent of the Celtics' points in the playoffs have come on mid-range shots (defined as outside the paint, but inside the 3-point line). That's the highest percentage of any of the remaining playoff teams.

During the regular-season, the Celtics were tied (with the Sixers) for the NBA lead in percentage of points that came on mid-range shots (27.2 percent). In Boston's wins in this series they've averaged 44 points per game in the paint. In the losses, it dipped to 24.7.
The Celtics ranked second-to-last in the league in percentage of points in the paint (38.1 percent), only the New Jersey Nets scored a lower percentage of their points from inside the paint.

That's a tough way to make a living, especially with a team whose stars have a lot of mileage on their NBA odometers.

The player most adept at getting into the paint for the Celtics is point guard Rajon Rondo. That's why Rondo, a tepid performer in Game 6, will determine if this is it for the current Core Four.

The mere idea of the trio of Garnett, Pierce and Allen having their run ended by a team that is the eighth seed in the East, went 10-14 over its final 24 games, and has been blown off the court twice by the Celtics in this series, makes one want to bang their head against a basket support like KG does with his calvous dome.

Losing to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the conference final is an honorable demise for the New Big Three era -- anyone still think the Pacers would be a tougher opponent for the Celtics? -- but losing to the 76ers is a dishonorable and disappointing end.

Sorry, but like Pierce, that's a hard truth.

Six months ago, when the season tipped off on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden, if any of the Parishioners of the Parquet had been told that they could sign up a binding contract that would ensure the Celtics' path to the Eastern Conference finals was the Atlanta Hawks and the 76ers they would have brought their own pen or signed in crimson if necessary.

Game 7 is a destination the Celtics shouldn't have arrived at, but they're taking the route they always do -- Hard Way.

They're a make-miss team in the ultimate make-miss game. Either they make it to the Eastern Conference final or they miss a golden opportunity.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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