NEW YORK — Will some other Celtic please step up?
The Celtics are waiting for someone, anyone, to carry the torch passed by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, to be the next Boston Celtics playoff hero. Rajon Rondo has had a few of those games, most recently his 44-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound outburst (Rondo’s critics will call it a tantrum) in Game 2 vs. Miami in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. In a 2011 sweep of the Knicks, Rondo put up arguably his most impressive playoff triple double, amassing 15 points, 11 rebounds, and a staggering 20 assists in a 113-96 win in Game 3.
That Rondo turned in the last performance in this very same building is a reminder of how much he’s missed. That Rondo is hanging around the team giving high-grade advice in a high-fashion suit without being able to suit up is somewhat upsetting.
There’s no other Rajon Rondo waiting in the wings, and for the moment, no other Celtic appears ready to pick up the slack left behind by a declining Pierce and Garnett. Jeff Green did his darnedest Saturday, but he couldn’t match the effectiveness of his 20-point first half later in the game. Green took five shots in the second half and one in the fourth quarter. Realizing Green was killing them, the Knicks keyed in on the versatile forward, double-teaming Green and forcing someone else to beat them. No one else did,
“Paul is our go-to guy, but we’ve got myself, [Jason Terry], Courtney [Lee],” said Green. “We’ve got to continue to be aggressive. We can’t rely on Paul and KG.”
It wasn’t all Green’s fault. The Knicks jostled Green, switching Carmelo Anthony onto the Celtics winger in the second half to rough him up a bit. Anthony made every catch difficult. Out on the top of the key Jason Kidd roamed like a free safety, making entry passes into the post themselves an adventure.
The Celtics had no good way to get the ball to Green, but Green didn’t have help. Courtney Lee scored four points, which happened to be the only points scored by the Boston bench all afternoon. Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford combined to go scoreless in nearly 30 minutes of play. A Boston bench player over 6-feet-5-inches tall never took his warmups off.
The other starters weren’t much help, either. Avery Bradley picked up two fouls in the first quarter and sat early. He struggled when he was in the game, committing four turnovers to four assists. Garnett was 4-of-12 from the field. Brandon Bass was a frustratingly-efficient 2 for 2, not getting the ball often enough in the right spots to continue his perfect game.
“We were just making bad passes,” said Bradley. “That’s not the kind of team we are. We just panicked a little bit and we don’t have to do that.”
The key question is whether the Celtics have the pieces and just aren’t executing, or whether it’s a problem of personnel. Terry gave the Celtics nothing Saturday. Bradley is better known for his defense than his offense. Both players have shown a solid scoring touch at times, and Lee and Bass can fill it up on and off. One of these players needs to step up and, like Green,and take a dominant role in the offense for a quarter or a half. Pierce and Garnett can’t carry the team like they used to.
The Celtics used eight players Saturday, leaving big men Chris Wilcox and Shavlik Randolph on the bench. Maybe getting one of those bigger bodies into the game for 12 or 15 minutes will help the screen-setting. Despite his erraticism, Crawford needs more minutes in Game 2. The Celtics traded for Crawford because of his ability score, and they need to see if he can help. They won’t do much worse than 78 points and 20 turnovers.
“We’ve got to make sure we are in the game, make sure we are helping [Paul],” said Green. “If we’re aggressive it means the defense has to gear toward us and it leaves Paul open to get his shots and start making shots.”
It sounds simple, and the Celtics aren’t likely to throw the ball around quite as much as they did in Game 1. But they also haven’t ranked in the top half of the league in offense in several seasons. This year during the regular season they finished 24th. Just where that extra scoring will come from in Game 2 is of primary concern.