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Same old story for Celtics

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 26, 2013 08:15 PM

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Let's get this out of the way right now. The Celtics' season – and this mostly fulfilling six-year era – is not teetering on the edge of termination because the players lack heart, toughness, desire, want, Perk, whatever.

The Knicks are better. They are better individually, better as a whole, better at home, better on the road, better to the point that a Celtics fan looks at someone like 354-year-old Marcus Camby buried deep on the New York bench and think, "We could use him, and they don't use him at all."

It's full-blown roster envy here. The Knicks have three point guards (Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, and Raymond "Modern Day John Bagley" Felton) who are punishing the Celtics in different ways. The Celtics barely have a guard who can initiate their offense before the shot clock is in single digits.

And enough with the flashbacks to those frustrating Celtics-Nets series of a decade ago.
The way Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin have played, you half expect Lucious Harris to randomly show up and drill a couple of jumpers in Tony Delk's face.

The better team is winning, convincingly. That's how it is, that's hoops justice, that's why the Celtics are in a hopeless 3-0 hole after Friday night's emasculating 90-76 loss at TD Garden, and there's not a thing they can do about it, though at least that didn't stop Kevin Garnett (17 rebounds) from putting up a furious fight.

"He really wanted to win tonight,'' said coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought there were a couple of guys who stood out in that way. He obviously was fantastic. So I love him.''

Save for 21 shallow points from Jeff Green, Garnett didn't have much help. Pierce had to work for every one of his 17 with Kidd and Felton harassing him. Jason Terry, who started instead of Brandon Bass, had 14 meaningless points, further cementing his status as one of the biggest free-agent lemons in Celtics history.

"I got the sense that [Kevin] was getting frustrated because he wanted them to be him,'' Rivers said. "He just kept chugging along. He didn't change his demeanor. He's as competitive a human being as I've ever been around.''

The evening began with raucous, heartfelt cheers for the heroes of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, the policemen, doctors and first responders. By halftime, the cheers had become boos for the Celtics, who in their first home game since April 10 went into the break down 16 points (47-31).

Their brutal offensive second halves of Games 1 and 2 -- they totaled 48 points after the break in the two New York games -- happened in the first half this time. With their careless turnovers (sluggish Pierce in particular) and inability to pass out of double-teams on the perimeter (Green has the court vision of a man who forgot to put in his contact lenses that morning), the Celtics simply could not generate any offense. And forget about making a decent entry pass. The Knicks challenged everything.

"I thought we started out that way [with energy]. We just couldn't make shots,'' Rivers said. "They couldn't for a while, either, and then they started to. I just thought the second quarter, for whatever reason, we got so frustrated with our offense, we let up defensively. That's when they stretched that game.''

The Celtics scored just 13 points in the second quarter, missing 11 of 17 shots. Carmelo Anthony, who continues his breathtaking half-season homage to vintage Bernard King, scored six quick points just before the end of the half, the burst coming so quickly that the Garden scoreboard wishfully kept his point total at 4 before finally catching up. Anthony finished with 26, including 14 in the third when the Knicks built a 17-point lead. He might be a gunner, but he's marvelous to watch when he's on.

The pregame suspicion here was that the Celtics, riding that emotional wave, would take a big early lead, with the Knicks whittling it down before taking command in the second half. Turns out they didn't even have that much in them. The game was essentially over with half of it still to be played, and the outcome of this series lacks all suspense now. No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series in league history. A fifth game in this series would count as a moral victory at this point.

Even though Sunday is supposed to be a lovely day, with a high of 66 degrees and sunny, I'll tune in at 1 p.m. to pay my proper respects. They deserve that much. We'll wonder if this is it for KG, and begrudgingly admit Ray Allen made a prudent choice, and ponder how much things might have been different had Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, and even Leandro Barbosa not been injured along the way. Some will even blame it on the Kendrick Perkins deal, a tired narrative based in sentiment for the 2007-08 team rather than anything having to do with current reality.

Know what's really frustrating? If Rondo were healthy and Terry were more then a carcass (or Allen had stayed) and father time had been just a little more deliberate in sapping Garnett and Pierce's skills/stamina, the Celtics would take apart this Knicks team.

They're talented, but save for Kidd, they're soft, as evidenced again last night by J.R. Smith's ejection with 7:06 remaining.

"I hate doing it,'' said Rivers, when asked about stepping in between Smith and Terry during a skirmish. "You know that. I don't know. I wish I was playing. I didn't like that. You're up ... I'm going to stop."

The Celtics could mess with the Knicks, humble them, if they could just play with them. But they're not the Celtics of old. They're the old Celtics, and after one more game, they're going to stop, too.

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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