By A.Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM The Boston Celtics aren't scoring a ton of style points with NBA pundits and basketball aficionados following victories in Games 1 and 2 over the New York Knicks.
Boston has won both games by a total of five points, which speaks to how this series could just as easily be 2-0 in favor of the Knicks.
Even though the Celtics have the better record, swept the regular-season series and have now won 18 of the last 20 meetings between the teams, Boston players say they're not surprised at how tough the Knicks have been to put away.
Looking back at the four regular-season games, Boston won them by a total of just 26 points, or 6.5 points per game.
"This team is not going to go away," Ray Allen said of the Knicks. "We're not just going to beat this team because they are a lower seed than we are."
Said Rajon Rondo: "Hopefully we can get a couple games, or one game, where we can have a comfortable lead."
Sounds good in theory.
But this is the playoffs where every game, regardless of what happened in the regular season, is a struggle.
That's why Allen hasn't given a second thought as to why the C's haven't been able to put the Knicks away sooner when the two teams face one another.
"We can win every game by one point, and I'm happy," Allen said.
When Rajon Rondo is in full-blown attack mode, it's a thing of beauty. We've seen it to some degree in both playoff games against the New York Knicks. As much as Celtics Nation would love to see that Rondo all the time, both he and his coach know that's just not going to happen.
"It's impossible for 82 games to do that," Rondo said. "Different teams have different schemes."
He's talking about the way teams defend - something that has never been a part of a Mike D'Antoni-coached squad.
"Obviously, their strength is not defense," Rondo said. "It's putting the ball in the hole."
Which for Rondo, looked quite easy in Game 2 when he had a playoff career-high 30 points primarily on lay-ups that came when he beat the Knicks down court.
Rondo said the key to his fast start - he had 12 points in the first quarter - was Boston's ability to hold its own on the boards and Knicks guard Toney Douglas picking up an early foul. Aware that New York was thin at the point-guard position (Anthony Carter was the backup because the team's usual starter, Chauncey Billups, was out with a left knee injury), Rondo was about as aggressive as we've seen him this season.
"We did a pretty good job rebounding and I was trying to take advantage," Rondo said.
One of the advantages Boston felt it had coming into this first-round series with the Knicks was its bench.
Well, things haven't quite worked out like they anticipated.
The Celtics' second unit has been outscored 46-22 by the Knicks' backups, which has put even more pressure on Boston's starters to carry the team.
Rivers isn't worried about his second unit's struggles.
"That's why it's a team game," Rivers said. "Sometimes your bench plays well and your starters don't. It's never going to be perfect. There will be a game in this series where a couple of our starters won't play well, and then somebody on the bench will step up. It's just the nature of the beast."
And while rotations in the playoffs do shrink - we're seeing that with the Celtics already - Rivers reiterated he will not make any significant changes to how he goes about using his reserves.
So far he has gone with a nine-man rotation although only three backups - Glen Davis, Jeff Green and Delonte West - see significant minutes off the bench.
Nenad Krstic is the ninth man, although he has played a total of just eight minutes in the first two games.
Krstic suffered a bone bruise to his right knee at San Antonio on March 31.
And last week, his left knee collided with a teammate in practice which has bothered him some as well.
"He's hurting," Rivers said. "But so is everyone. I don't pay attention to that. I never ask. If they're hurting enough, they'll tell me. That's been my motto."
Rivers also believes deeply in bench play being important always, but especially in the playoffs.
And while his second unit has had its problems, his faith in them remains strong as ever.
"I'm going to play our bench, whether they are playing well or not," Rivers said. "They will play well. They just haven't. They'll come through for us."