A win is a win is a win this time of year. But that doesn't mean Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his troops can't find something to nitpick about. And that wasn't hard Tuesday night.
The Celtics were absolutely dominated on the glass by an undersized and shorthanded Knicks squad that played the entire second half without star big man Amare Stoudemire. The Knicks finished with a 53-37 edge on the glass, turning a whopping 20 offensive rebounds into 24 second-chance points.
Those offensive caroms, five of which came in the fourth quarter, including two on the possession that New York utilized to pull ahead 93-92 with 19.3 seconds to play, left Rivers and Co. disappointed in their overall effort. The Celtics could have pinned the blame on the need to double-team Carmelo Anthony, who was unconscious for much of the night and single-handedly kept New York competitive with an otherworldly 42-point and 17-rebound effort. But Rivers doesn't like excuses.
“[Losing the battle on the glass] was a matter of us, because we had to go trap [Anthony]," Rivers said. "We were less one guy on the glass. So we’ve got to figure out a better way. They were flying to the glass. They knew they didn’t have their guys; they were going for it. But, like I said, it’s not that we didn’t play hard. We played hard. But we’ve got to play better and smarter. Hard is great. Hard and smart is much better.
"And we can do better -- we can be better. I am happy we won the game, but I just know my team is better than that and I know we can be better, and it’s my job to get it out of them.”
Doesn't exactly sound like a coach whose team holds a solid two-game edge as the series shifts to New York, but Rivers knows Boston can't get away with efforts like this against the Knicks, let alone the East's other big dogs who could lie ahead.
"When you think about it, rebounding is will," Glen Davis said. "You've got to go get it. They went and got their hands on a lot of balls today. That really dictated the game. I think if we control the boards, we walk out of here fashionably with a win, and kind of [kill] their confidence. But today their role players got real confident, and so we've just got to make sure that those guys don't get an attitude or a sense of that they can be a factor in this."
Added Rajon Rondo: "We know we have a lot to improve on. There’s so many areas, they destroyed us on the glass. Obviously, without Amare we had to help a lot, but we've got to crack back, our guys have got to do a better job of boxing out the bigs. As a team overall, we have to do a better job at rebounding the ball, that’s been our problem throughout the season. We escaped tonight."
--J.O'NEAL TWEAKS WRIST; MISSES TIME IN FIRST HALF--
Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal aggravated a left wrist injury during the first half of Tuesday's game and needed to return to the locker room to ice what the team termed a mild sprain.
O'Neal originally tore cartilage in the wrist while taking a preseason charge in Toronto. He's worn a brace during the limited action he's logged this season, but appeared to aggravate the injury while taking a key charge from Stoudemire in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Game 1 triumph.
O'Neal could be seen grabbing at the wrist immediately after that play and further tweaked it during the first quarter Tuesday. He returned to the locker room with team physician Brian McKeon and iced the wrist after an eight-minute first-quarter stint. He returned to the bench early in the second quarter and checked in with 7:54 to go, hitting a jumper less than a minute later.
After logging hefty second-half action in Game 1, O'Neal played only 7:03 after the intermission, sitting out the entire fourth quarter. He finished with two points on 1-of-3 shooting with three rebounds, two blocks and an assist over 20:24. Four fouls during that span didn't help his cause, but Rivers suggested the limited playing time had more to do with a coach's decision than injury.
"It was a tough call," Rivers said. "And we won the game. I don’t know if I made the right call or not, honestly. But they were small and we kind of liked Baby stretching the floor a little bit for us. But it was a difficult call. I’ve got to tell you, as a coach, you’re going back and forth. The debate on the bench would’ve been terrific for you guys to hear, but we turned the mics off so you couldn’t.”
--LAYUP LINE: STOUDEMIRE'S SPASMS; DOC'S REACTION; WALKER'S TECH--
* Stoudemire logged a mere 17:39 after enduring back spasms in the first half that forced him from the game in the second quarter. Unstoppable at times during Game 1, Stoudemire was a mere 2-of-9 shooting for four points with five rebounds and an assist. He said his back tightened up during warm-ups and only got worse.
“I could hardly move," Stoudemire said. "I was trying to play through it, went to the training staff and was getting worked on there before the game. Right before the national anthem, I got up and stood up for the anthem and tried to get a little more work done. I just couldn’t get quite totally loose. I tried to play on it and pushed through it ... but after [the first two quarters] it was a sharp pain and I couldn’t continue.”
* For a Celtics team that has played some of its most uninspired basketball when opposing superstars have been out of the lineup at the Garden, Rivers didn't do any celebrating when Stoudemire was declared out for the rest of the game (joining the already absent Chauncey Billups).
"Right when I heard that Stoudemire was out, I turned to [assistant coach] Lawrence Frank and said, ‘Oh, jeez, they’ve got us right where they want us right now.’ [Knicks coach] Mike [D’Antoni] had his guys, they played hard, they played free, and I thought we were lucky to win."
* Old friend Bill Walker labored through an atrocious shooting night, missing all 11 shots he put up while finishing with two points over 32:31. Walker tried to atone with gritty play, hauling in eight rebounds and making two steals. But his biggest transgression might have been getting a little too feisty with Ray Allen, putting the veteran guard on the ground with a third-quarter shove that resulted in a technical foul.
The game was tied at 59 at that point, Boston scored 15 of the game's next 19 points, sparked by an Allen 3-pointer, to open an 11-point lead, the Celtics' biggest cushion of the night. The Knicks leaned on Anthony's unconscious offensive effort to bring the team back in the final quarter.