Posted May 16 2012 11:35AM
PHILADELPHIA -- Sometimes, as basketball fans and pundits, we get a little ahead of ourselves.
When the Bulls' Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the postseason, we were ready to put the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. And when the Heat's Chris Bosh suffered a lower abdominal strain on Sunday, we considered the possibility of Boston's Big Three playing for one more championship.
But perhaps we forgot just how anemic the Celtics' offense can be. And so they reminded us on Monday night, scoring 49 points through the first three quarters and finishing with 81 on 92 possessions in their Game 2 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
"I wasn't real happy, or proud, the way we played offensively," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. "It was not very good."
After an ugly first half of the season, the Celtics went 24-10 after the All-Star break to put themselves in the "potential contender" category. They had the staunch defense, the experience and the motivation to hang banner No. 18.
For two seasons now, the Celtics haven't been on the same level as a healthy Heat team or a healthy Bulls team. But when those teams are missing All-Stars, we can always go back to the 'ol "they know how to win" intangible to justify the prediction that the veteran Celtics can get it done one more time.
But, really, when the Celtics were going 24-10 after the break, only four teams were worse offensively. That run was all defense. Over the entire season, the Celtics finished 24th in offensive efficiency, scoring less than a point per possession.
Now, there is somewhat of a precedent that shows a bad offensive team can go far. Back in 1999, the last time the season was truncated by a lockout, the New York Knicks ranked 26th in offensive efficiency and eventually made The Finals. But those Knicks were improved offensively through their first eight playoff games. These Celtics are not.
Over the last five years, the Celtics' offense could be a thing of beauty when it's clicking. Ball movement, player movement, precise execution and the most accurate perimeter shooting in the league.
But over the last couple of years, the Boston offense has deteriorated, especially in regards to its ability to get to the free-throw line. The Celtics have come to rely more and more on mid-range jump shots, and that is a failing proposition.
It doesn't help that both Paul Pierce (knee) and Ray Allen (ankle) are injured, and that Pierce is being guarded by Andre Iguodala, arguably the best perimeter defender in the league.
"I don't think we have a big margin of error," Rivers said. "We knew that coming into this whole playoff run with the bodies we have. We've got guys going in and out of games; Paul clearly is not 100%. We're not going to run away from anybody."
But it's not as if the Boston offense has suddenly fallen apart. It's been bad all year. We knew this would be an ugly series. These are both the two best defensive teams and two worst offensive teams left in the postseason.
Of course, Game 2 surpassed our expectations. It was downright hideous at times, with the teams combining to shoot 37 percent and commit 30 turnovers through three quarters. The Sixers went through a stretch of 27 possessions spanning the second and third quarters during which they scored just four times. And they won the game!
Though ugly offense is nothing new for the Celtics, Rivers believes that his team can score enough if his players just follow the game plan.
"We knew the blueprint before the game," he said Monday. "It took us three quarters to get into it. And you know I always say that's on me. Somehow I have to figure that out with our guys."
With Pierce and Allen hobbled, it's up to Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett to carry much of the load offensively. But for Rivers, it's more about his team working through Garnett in the post and moving the ball to the open man.
"I just think we've got to play right," he said. "We've got to move the ball. It was no coincidence, again, when the one group was in, they spaced the floor, they trapped Kevin the same way they they've been trapping him, and we got layups and wide-open threes. So we have to do that first and then we'll find out if somebody else has to step up."
Rivers told WEEI radio on Tuesday that the Sixers have outplayed his team in each of the first two games. And before we start thinking about how far the Celtics can go in this postseason, they need to find a way to get their offense going in Game 3 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT).
If they can't, it won't matter what's happening on the other side of the bracket.
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