Commentary

Celtics in a losing battle?

The Heat's Demolition Duo strikes again and KG & Co. have no answers

Updated: May 29, 2012, 10:29 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

MIAMI -- The question is predictable, understandable: So how many did they have this time?

Since the tandem of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade eviscerated the Indiana Pacers by combining for 139 points in the two final games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, remaining NBA clubs have collectively embarked on a hand-wringing campaign, fretting aloud how the Big Two could possibly be stopped. Their performance was so imposing, some even foolishly surmised they were better off without Chris Bosh.

LeBron and D-Wade did flourish again in the absence of their third spoke Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. They are on an otherworldly tear, made possible, in part, by a Celtics team that seemed to spend chunks of this game on their heels, reacting to the Talents of South Beach dominating them in the paint instead of proactively trying to stop them.

LeBron James
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireLeBron James had his way against Paul Pierce in Game 1, scoring 32 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

"We cannot beat [Miami] giving them layups," declared a somber Kevin Garnett.

But that's not the only reason Boston was spanked by the Miami Heat, 93-79. Give the Heat credit for what they did, but once again the Celtics' shortcomings were hauntingly familiar. What Boston hasn't been able to do for much of the postseason with any consistency is score.

You will rarely win any playoff games shooting 39 percent from the floor, as the men in green did Monday night. You won't win too many shooting 52 percent from the line, either. (Yep, they did that too.)

Part of it was the cat-quick defense of the Heat. They trapped, jumped passing lanes, blocked shots, remained the aggressors. Perhaps the Celtics were fatigued. They played Game 7 at home against the Sixers on Saturday, then left for Miami the next morning. The Heat, meanwhile, had been idle since Thursday. Then again, whose fault is that? Boston had a plethora of opportunities to eliminate Philadelphia sooner.

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You can get away with missing open jumpers against an offensively stilted team like the 76ers, but when you fail to convert makeable shots against the Heat, they are going to ram it down your throat in transition, or at the hands of two of the best scorers in the league in LeBron and Wade.

"We haven't been shooting the ball well for a while," conceded Keyon Dooling. "We haven't been able to run off one of those stretches where we get rolling.

"We've got to do better. A team like the Heat is going to exploit your misses."

Curiously, Boston submitted one of its most efficient offensive performances of the postseason in the second quarter, when it made a conscious effort to make the extra pass as well as establish Garnett in the post. The Celtics made 13 of 22 shots in that frame and the teams were locked 46-46 at the half.

There was every reason to believe the Celtics were on to something.

But that was before the wheels fell off in the third quarter, when the Heat's Demolition Duo took ownership of the paint and the Celtics responded by trying to match their frenetic pace instead of running their half-court sets. "I thought we rushed our offense," coach Doc Rivers said. "I never thought we got into our rhythm as far as getting to one side of the floor to the other, [finding the] second and third options."

A Wade basket at 8:58 of the third quarter pushed his team's advantage to 17 (80-63), and at that moment Boston's four starters who do not answer to the moniker Kevin Maurice Garnett were shooting a woeful 28.5 percent from the floor.

That's 5-of-17 for the captain, Paul Pierce, 1-of-7 for Ray "Sugar Free" Allen, 2-of-8 for Brandon Bass and a brutal 6-of-17 for Rajon Rondo, the player so many identified as the key to the series for the Celtics.

Include the Heat among those who felt limiting Rondo would thwart the fortunes of his ballclub. Miami marked him with a number of fresh bodies, among them Mario Chalmers, Wade and James.

Rondo almost came unglued in the first quarter. He coughed up four turnovers (although he did not turn it over again the rest of the way) and finished the night shooting 8-of-20 from the floor, with a number of those misses contested drives to the basket.

"They played different guys on me," Rondo said. "They shrunk the floor."

"You could see it on his face that he was frustrated," offered Chalmers. "He couldn't go where he wanted to go.

"But he's a great player. I'm sure they'll make adjustments."

One of the first will be to get Rondo and Pierce to the line. Neither one of them took a single free throw in this game.

[+] EnlargeRay Allen
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images"I know I don't have good timing right now. My shot feels fine. It's just timing," said Ray Allen, who was 1 for 7 Monday and is shooting just 65.2 percent from the line in the playoffs.

James and Wade, meanwhile, were a combined 12-of-15 from the line. And then there is the ongoing quandary of what to do about Allen. Once one of the most lethal snipers in the game, Allen's ankle injury, which has left him with painful bone spurs that are constantly moving around and discovering new locations to torture him, has reduced him to a glorified decoy. Rivers has repeatedly chided Allen that he must continue to shoot if he's open, but after another 1-for-7 outing, Allen is shooting a mind-boggling 40.8 percent from the floor in the postseason. A career 89.4 percent free throw shooter, Ray was 3-of-7 from the line Monday, leaving him at 65.2 percent in the playoffs.

"It's hard to say," Allen said. "I know I don't have good timing right now. My shot feels fine. It's just timing."

"With him, it's just balance," Rivers said. "When you have a bad foot, ankle or anything, your balance is off and you can see it on Ray. The ball is going left a lot."

Rivers said his coaching staff will discuss subbing Allen more frequently to keep him strong. If Mickael Pietrus had been more effective (0-for-1 from the floor, 1-for-4 from the line), he might have been an option. In the past, Dooling has offered some spot shooting, but on Monday he missed two of his three attempts.

Only Garnett (9-of-16, 23 points, 10 rebounds) established himself as a consistent, legitimate threat. He posted up, knocked down offensive rebounds and hit a few perimeter shots over the outstretched arms of James.

Both teams emerged from Game 1 declaring they hadn't played their best basketball. The Heat pounded the Celtics off the glass (48-33), bested them in the paint (42-34), doubled them up on fastbreak points (10-5) and blocked 11 shots (the Celtics had one), so it's hard to imagine what they hope to do better. Oh, and the answer to the question "How many did they have this time?"

LeBron and D-Wade combined for 54 points. What should really irk the Celtics this morning is they enabled complementary players like Shane Battier and Mike Miller to drill shots at key moments.

Who will do that for Boston in Game 2? Someone? Anyone? "Relax," said the ever-upbeat Pietrus. "It's one game. We will not stop fighting. You know that by now."

Yes, we do. But we also know that putting points on the board continues to be a losing battle.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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