The Celtics just don’t have enough talented players to beat a decent team on the road right now. Everything on offense tonight was difficult and stressful, save a few transition threes in the fourth, and it’s probably going to stay that way until Rajon Rondo comes back. There are very few easy baskets without Rajon. Even the points in the paint–and there were plenty, almost 30 in the first half–came from offensive rebounds or interior passes (Pierce to Perk to Powe!) that flew past Heat fingertips by inches. All stuff that would be hard to do again even if you tried.
And sure enough, the C’s couldn’t pull it off again in the second half. Ray Allen, working his tail off both away from the ball and off the dribble, followed a 24-point first half with three in the second. The team pulled down four second-half offensive boards after somehow grabbing 10 in the first half.
You could feel this coming. The first half almost felt like one of the NCAA games where an undermanned small conference team rides one hot scorer, some luck and one guy having the game of his life (Leon Powe, 23 points, 13 boards) to hang with an opponent that is clearly better. That’s an exaggeration, yes, but the C’s just didn’t have the horses tonight. You can’t just pencil in a win when you see Chicago on the schedule (on Tuesday) with the lineup the Celtics are limited to now.
It starts at the point. The Stephon Marbury experiment is, right now, a disaster. He can’t shoot (0-for-6), which is expected, but he’s not creating for anyone else. He’s not beating guys off the dribble, and he’s not penetrating into the lane. He’s got four assists next to his name tonight, but three came on Ray Allen jumpers in situations where anyone on the team could have made the pass.
Celtic point guards had zero points until Eddie House hit a shot with 13.6 seconds left in the third quarter, and it’s not a coincidence the Celtics rallied in the fourth with House in the game. He wasn’t Magic Johnson or anything, but he made shots–three in the fourth, including two straight from deep to somehow, some way, pull the C’s within 96-95 with 3:57 left. And like those NCAA underdogs, they didn’t have enough to finish.
(Side note: The Celtics could have won this game if House were an inch or two taller. Here was the crucial possession:
(4:22)–Down just 93-92 after a House three, the C’s force Jamario Moon into a long jumper from the top of the key. It hits the front rim and bounces up to the backboard. House leaps for what looks to be an easy rebound, but the ball glances off the front rim on its way down. By the time it comes off, House is on his descent. He gets a finger on the ball, only to push it toward the baseline. He heaves a save attempt toward mid-court, where Pierce is standing with three members of the Heat. Wade corrals the ball and attacks before the defense gets set. He darts down the lane, draws a foul and lays the ball in, plus one.
(End of digression)
There really isn’t much else to complain about, considering the personnel. The effort was there. The Heat shot 50 percent (for a 60 percent true shooting mark), which isn’t a disaster. The Celtics rotations and screen/roll defense were better tonight than they were against New Jersey last week, for instance.
The Celtics did a decent job of forcing the Heat to make long jumpers, often under some pressure, and the Heat made them. Sometimes Jamario Moon and James Jones are going to go 5-for-9 from three-point range. It happens. The Celtics also took 11 more foul shots than Miami despite every green big man battling foul trouble from almost the opening tip. (Mikki Moore had four fouls in the first quarter).
The turnovers (17 of them) hurt again, especially three in the first 2:08 of the third quarter, when Miami went on an 11-0 run to take the lead. The C’s got back on top, 65-64, but three more turnovers (Marbury, House and Ray) in the last five minutes of the third helped Miami push the lead to 11. Six turnovers in one quarter is a lot, but not for the Celtics, and not considering Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers (four steals apiece tonight) are second and fifth in the NBA in steals, respectively.
All in all, the game went kind of how I expected it would go–except for Pierce taking only 10 shots in 40 minutes. He must be tired. Moon is a solid defender, but he’s not that good.
So what should Doc do in the next few games? We discuss, after the jump.
One thing he should keep doing is playing Bill Walker. He had eight points and two steals in 12 minutes tonight, and, most importantly, he played under control (other than dropping one beautiful interior pass from Pierce in the fourth quarter). Pierce and Allen each played 40 minutes tonight, which is probably still too many even though Doc’s hands are tied. I’d like to see the number down around 36. The Celtics are not going to win home court, so there is no need to run these guys into the ground.
I’ve got no clue what Doc should do with Marbury. He obviously doesn’t deserve to start, but he won’t be able to contribute in the playoffs if he doesn’t play now. Even worse, the second unit Marbury was signed to help doesn’t even exist right now.
The Celtics have 17 games to get ready for the playoffs. It’s unclear how many of those games will involve KG or Rondo or Davis or Tony Allen (I’m assuming Scal is done for the year). Getting all of these guys prepared, fitting Marbury in, trying to rest Pierce and Ray–all while staying ahead of Orlando–is a very tall order for Doc. I don’t envy him right now.