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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Updated: April 25, 10:10 AM ET
C's putting up Zzz's against Knicks

By Stephen A. Smith
ESPNNewYork.com

As much as we would like to believe otherwise, let's stop fooling ourselves.

No matter how good the Knicks have looked, or Carmelo Anthony has looked, or two victories in the first two games of this first-round battle look to a legion of fans unaccustomed to such advantageous circumstances, a 2-0 lead in this playoff series is not simply a product of what the Knicks are doing.

Paul Pierce; J.R. Smith
Paul Pierce's dominant days are behind him.

It's about the regression of the Boston Celtics, a franchise disintegrating before our very eyes.

So long, Paul Pierce. We appreciate all you and Kevin Garnett have meant to this league, the championship-caliber moments you've provided. Because no matter what happens the rest of this series, it is clear your time is up.

Feel free to credit the Knicks' defense and another Herculean performance from Melo all you want, but there was something far more conspicuous that contributed to the Knicks' 87-71 win in Game 2 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

Just 23 second-half points for the Celtics, tying an all-time low for a half in the playoffs, would be one factor. A combined 48 second-half points in 48 minutes spanning Games 1 and 2 would be another.

The Celtics shot 26 percent from the field in the second half of Game 1; a horrific 19 percent in Game 2. If they've exhibited any kind of fluidity to their offense, we haven't seen it. Add in the five fouls called against Garnett in 24 minutes, the insufficient play from Pierce and the fact that it occurred when the future Hall of Famer was primarily defended by a miniature Raymond Felton, and it's clear these are not the Celtics most everyone expected to see by this time of the year.

"You feel free to have that attitude all you want," Woodson said Wednesday afternoon, "but I'm not about to. They are still the Boston Celtics. I've got a lot of respect for those guys. Winning will never be easy against them. They're not a team to take lightly and I can assure you, we're not about to do it. We know what challenge lies ahead of us."

Pierce did say after Game 2, "I think if we're able to turn the offense around a little bit, I like our chances in this series," but one has to question how legitimate a possibility that is.

Rajon Rondo, an elite point guard, especially during this time of year, is out after having season-ending knee surgery. Avery Bradley is no true point guard. The same can be said for Jason Terry. Courtney Lee, somehow, was called upon to contribute just four minutes in Game 2, and the combination of it all has left the ball in the hands of Pierce, who looks slower and slower as the games have progressed.

Combine that with Melo's assertion that "I'm missing shots I normally make ... I have to make shots," and that doesn't seem like good news for Boston, at all.

Melo's already averaging 35 points on 45.3 percent shooting (60 percent from 3-point range), even as Rivers finds himself switching between Jeff Green, Pierce and Brandon Bass defending him. J.R. Smith is putting up 17 points per game in the first two outings. Felton is not only averaging 14.5 points and four assists but is running the show, at times, the way Rondo customarily does for the Celtics.

"In the second half, no one did anything for us," Celtics coach Doc Rivers deadpanned. "They threw a knockout punch. Several."

Rivers didn't fail to add: "I thought the fouls on [Garnett] were horrendous. That had a huge effect on us. He never got his rhythm when you could see he was going to have a game. It hurt us."

Rivers was absolutely right in saying what he said. The fouls were horrendous. They did hinder Boston. But who cares.

As much as we know that Rivers was correct, we also know that doesn't address the bigger problem plaguing Boston right now.

They are old, slow, defensively deficient and devoid of a floor leader. The combination of it all leaves them ill-equipped to fend off these Knicks, who've managed to turn on their motors in the second half in ways the Celtics used to do defensively when they were competing for -- and winning -- a championship.

As a result, they could very well be on the brink of elimination once Friday night is over.

"We've got to play better," Rivers told reporters. "Plain and simple. We know what we're capable of."

Sadly, we're all starting to wonder what the Celtics are capable of anymore.

Even a victory Friday won't change the reality.