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Hope in scarce supply for Celtics

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 29, 2012 11:18 AM

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Maybe that's not the most flattering picture -- weren't they so much more photogenic in June 2008? -- but we might as well get a good look at them while we can.

The Big Four, still often misidentified as a Big Three, and down to the Big Two in terms of current effectiveness, are one frustrating game into what sure looks like an anticlimactic last hurrah in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, the quartet responsible for one championship banner and countless good memories the past five seasons, probably have three games remaining as teammates, maybe four. Five? That feels a daydream after what we saw Monday night.

With their 93-79 victory in Game 1, the Miami Heat did more than take a 1-0 lead in the series. They established the inevitable. Barring an injury to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or sudden, whistle-happy irrationality from Danny Crawford that benefits the Celtics, the Heat are winning this series, their opponent more a pylon than a road block.

It's not a fun thing to have to acknowledge. The Heat, as electric as they can be, have shown themselves to be mentally fragile front-runners. This core of Celtics, at full strength, could overcome them. Hell, I believe they would overcome them. But save for that Big Two -- the extraordinary Kevin Garnett, who should touch the ball on every possession, and Rajon Rondo, maddening and brilliant and maddening again -- the Celtics just do not have enough to expose the Heat, let alone defeat them in a long series.

The Heat struggle to match up with Garnett, and to a degree Rondo, though challenging the latter at the rim proved effective in Game 1 (he shot 8 for 20). The Heat may not be able to neutralize them entirely, but they don't have to, because the Celtics have no answers for their superstars.

It's uncertain how much Paul Pierce's knee is still bothering him, but this much we do know for sure. He has no lift after he plows and plods his way to the hoop, and he can't do much more than body up to James on the defensive end. Pierce rises to the occasion of dueling LeBron, but right now, his the only time there is any space between the floor and his sneakers is when that commercial with him sitting in the Garden rafters airs during a break in the action.

allenrayceltics528.jpgAnd what is there left to say hobbling Ray Allen? Arguably the greatest shooter in league history is but a ghost of his past greatness, having hit 1 of 7 from the floor and -- this is just incomprehensible -- 3 of 7 from the line Monday while often dealing with the relentless Wade on the defensive end. It's hard to watch it come to this for such a proud and accomplished player, and I might suggest Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge should shut him down if there were anything resembling a legitimate alternative to take his minutes.

There was, of course, and it's a cruel irony it's an injury to a young player rather than one of the veterans that is truly crushing this team right now. Save for the cloning of Bill Russell or Larry Bird, Avery Bradley is exactly what the Celtics need right now -- someone who can run with Rondo and get a well-timed easy basket or two, while also playing lock-down defense on Wade. Instead, he's recovering from shoulder surgery. I used to love that commercial Comcast SportsNet New England runs promoting its Celtics coverage that features Bradley blocking Wade's shot at the rim. Now it's just a reminder of who, and what, is missing.

I hate thinking of the Celtics this way. It's been a remarkably resilient group, a true team, and one that beat the Heat three times in April alone. Hope did exist not so long ago. Conceding the ending before it arrives is no fun. But it's much easier to do than coming up with a logical way the Celtics can play on beyond the next three games, maybe four.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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