Second half dooms Celtics . . . again

Second half dooms Celtics . . . again
April 24, 2013, 2:00 am
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NEW YORK — The Boston Celtics are considered a team full of players with high basketball IQs.

But two games into their first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, there are a lot of befuddled-looking Celtics players as they return home facing a 2-0 series deficit after Tuesday's 87-71 loss to the Knicks.

The turning point in both games seemed to have been the moment the C's left the locker room and turned towards the court to start the second half of play.

In both games, Boston squandered leads to start the third quarter, which forced them to spend the rest of the game playing from behind.
In Game 1, it was a disastrous fourth quarter in which the Celtics scored just eight points, tying the franchise record for fewest points scored in a quarter of a playoff game.

On Tuesday, it was the third quarter that ultimately sealed Boston's fate as the Knicks crushed them, 32-11.

Boston wasn't much better in the fourth, with 12 points. The 23 second-half points in a playoff game was the lowest scoring half in franchise history, and tied three other teams for the lowest in NBA history.

"At the end of the day, as a team you have come out and play hard in the second half and we're not doing that," said Boston guard Avery Bradley. "We let them pick their pressure up and we started turning the ball over."

But this wasn't about turnovers.

The C's had four in the third quarter that led to just two points, while the Knicks had three that resulted in two points for the C's.

This was about New York playing harder for longer stretches which has been a trend in both games thus far.

"They attacked us," said coach Doc Rivers. "We didn't handle it very well. We have to be able to do better."

Of course, New York's much-improved defense has played a significant role in Boston's second-half struggles.

But more than that, the C's have not elevated their play coming out to start the second half to a level that would even allow them to compete, let alone beat, the Knicks.

And while the Celtics are well aware of what the problem is, it remains to be seen if there's anything they can do to fix it in time to make this series competitive.

The connection between Boston's defense and its offense is strong, so as one falters the other won't be too far behind.

That's exactly what happened in the third quarter on Tuesday.

Boston's defense had some noticeable slippage early in the third, with the most damaging part being a pair of 3-pointers - wide open 3s - made by Iman Shumpert that tied the game at 50-50.

"We had been defending the 3 pretty well all game until then, as that was a point of emphasis," said Paul Pierce.

And those early 3s by Shumpert who didn't make another shot all night, trickled over into the offense which shot a horrific 4-for-18 from the field in the third quarter.

"If we don't get stops then we can't play because we don't have the ability to walk the ball up the floor under pressure and run our offense," Rivers said.

As much as the Celtics will talk about X's and O's to improve their second half play, the first area that could use some work is their second-half effort and intensity.

"We just need to become more aggressive in the second half going forward," said Brandon Bass. "We have to have the mentality of attacking starting in the third quarter and continue to play solid defense, like we had done in the first two quarters."

Said Pierce: "When they pick up the pressure, we . . . have to be a little more physical. When they push, we have to push back and I thought they had us on our heels for most of the second half. We have to be able to respond better than that."