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Shaun Powell

A series loss in the Eastern Conference finals could spell the end for this group of Celtics.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Game 1 loss shows end could be near for Celtics

Posted May 29 2012 7:17AM

MIAMI -- Is this the last hurrah for the Old Three? Well, it sure was the last ha-ha, LeBron James laughing at Kevin Garnett late in the game while palming the ball, shortly after the Heat palmed the Celtics' throats.

It was a long and extended chuckle and KG, who didn't take too kindly to it, responded with a long and extended glare. But that's all he could do because, really, what could he say?

Game 1 was indeed a laugher.

"That's all good," huffed Garnett. "Man, they're comfortable. And when you're comfortable you do things like that."

We are one game into the Eastern Finals, one step closer for the Heat to return to the championship, one step closer toward a possible dismantling for the Celtics. A Miami sweep, or even a five-game thrashing, will surely signal for the demolition crew in Boston.

They are a proud threesome, no doubt, but also a crumbling collection of Hall of Famers whose time together is almost up. At least that's how it appeared Monday, anyway, when KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were exposed by the Heat as being too old and too hurt to delay the inevitable changing of the guard in the East. It was Miami 93, Celtics 79, a game that won't necessarily decide the series, but could define it.

Garnett took full advantage of the absence of Chris Bosh, as you knew he would, going for 23 points and 10 rebounds and was clearly the best Celtic on the floor. But again, he had an advantage. The other two? Not so. Not even close.

Allen missed six of his seven shots, which made you wonder if he's shot. His performance was more of the same in this post-season for Allen, a jump shooter with a few loose springs. The greatest deep threat in history is shooting 27 percent beyond the stripe. Other than the pair of threes he made late in Game Seven against Philly, he's hurting in more ways than one. Dragging around a pair of weak ankles is no way to shoot your way past a Miami team that rotates well and closes quickly. And the Heat know it.

Pierce missed 13 of 18 shots and never established a rhythm. But you can understand. He needs plenty of energy to check LeBron, who dropped 32 points and had Pierce on his heels all night.

All told, the Celtics were outrebounded by 15 and outsprinted by LeBron and Wade. If this is how it'll be for the Celtics, especially if Rajon Rondo is a vapor as he was through much of Game 1, and nothing much coming from the bench, do you doubt where this is headed?

"This was not our best basketball," said Garnett, but is their best basketball behind them?

The Celtics needed six games to dispatch the Hawks and were taken to the limit by the Sixers. That's a sure sign that a team is laboring, straining at the seams, surviving mainly on grit and pride but little else. Miami didn't need Bosh in Game 1 and there will be no need to rush him back from an abdominal strain if this keeps up.

"We're way more competitive than that," said Pierce. "We're a confident group."

Four years ago the Celtics were deftly assembled to win multiple championships, much as the Heat, and the early returns were promising. They delivered immediately after KG and Allen joined Pierce and the three were still young and strong enough to add a few more.

Then, misfortune: KG's injury in the 2009 playoffs and then in 2010 a Game 7 loss to Kobe (Kendrick Perkins' injury didn't help) cost Boston a legit chance at three straight. Last spring they were chopped down by the newly-assembled Three in Miami and might be looking at the same-old this time around.

KG and Allen are free agents this summer with no guarantee of returning to Boston, so this is their last best chance to finish what they started. Losing the first game in this series doesn't mean they won't put up a fight, or even advance, but they'd better heal up and young up in a hurry, if that's even possible at this point.

"I believe we have better basketball in us," said Garnett. "We have to put forth more of a fight, more of an effort."

Rondo even raised the possibility of inflicting pain on Wade and James whenever they reach the rim, quick to say "nothing dirty" but that "they have to hit the deck."

That's how former champions react when threatened, when their flaws and vulnerabilities are exposed. And you can understand. These are desperate times for the Celtics, who are trying to beat the league MVP and a healthy Wade, both on a major roll. But the Celtics had nothing in a second half where they were outscored 47-33 and clearly were gassed. It was, you could wisecrack, well past their bedtime by then.

And unless this series changes in a hurry, it might be past their time, period.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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