Commentary

Celtics need little changes to win series

Playing complete game will make big difference for Celtics against Knicks

Updated: April 21, 2011, 8:29 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics' catchphrase (constantly) reminds us that, "It's all about 18." Celtics players learned Wednesday that sometimes it's all about 17.

That's how many consecutive clips Celtics coach Doc Rivers had queued up at the start of the team's film session at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, showing just how atrocious Boston was on the defensive glass as it allowed the New York Knicks to haul in a whopping 20 offensive rebounds during Tuesday's Game 2 Boston victory at the TD Garden.

The Celtics emerged with a 96-93 triumph but certainly didn't make things easy on themselves as the short-handed Knicks turned those offensive caroms into a 24-6 advantage in second-chance points. So while Rivers is happy to be headed to the Big Apple with a 2-0 series lead, his point was that Boston isn't going to win any championships if it doesn't tighten up inconsistent aspects of its game, such as the rebounding.

(For good measure, Rivers could have had his video gurus splice in some shots of Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year, but he probably figured the rapid-fire clips from Game 2 would suffice for now.)

"We're in help [defense] and we're really not doing anything," Rivers said in breaking down Boston's rebounding struggles. "We're kinda helping, but we're not trapping. And when the shots go up, we just turn [toward] the glass. That means the guy that was helping, there's nobody on his guy's body.

"We showed that. That was our first 17 clips today. So, hopefully we've shown you can help, but you gotta recover back to the body because they're sending all five guys to the glass. And they're not even trying to get some rebounds; they're just trying to keep the ball alive as long as possible. They feel they have a speed advantage, and it's the old football adage: If you can knock the ball loose, the quicker guy gets the ball. The Jimmy Johnson rule -- they're doing that."

The Celtics know that while they've made key plays late in each of their first two postseason games, they could have saved themselves some aggravation by shoring up lapses in their play. More importantly, Boston might get away with allowing a dinged-up Knicks squad to dominate the glass, but do that against the Miamis and Chicagos of the world, and the Green will be on the greens of the local golf course before May is out.

Wednesday's to-do list included better rebounding, better finishes to quarters and more consistency to their effort.

"We've got to do a lot better," point guard Rajon Rondo said. "I think we've got to start the games better, close quarters. In the first and second quarter, I think they closed on a 16-9 or 16-4 run, so overall we can do a better job and stop letting it go down to the wire.

"But I mean, it's playoff basketball. We have two wins, but it doesn't start until you get a win on the road, so hopefully we can get the first win in New York."

Beyond the rebounding, New York seemed to make late-quarter charges in every frame, negating all the good Boston had done at the start. For instance, Rondo came out aggressive Tuesday and turned the early portion of Tuesday's game into his layup line.

New York, down 10 points a little more than nine minutes in, scored the quarter's final eight points to pull within two at the end of one frame. Boston opened a similar 11-point cushion in the third frame, only to watch it disappear in little more than a four-minute span.

[+] EnlargeShawne Williams
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Knicks kept it close with the Celtics in Game 2 thanks to their offensive rebounding, but the Celtics look to change that.

"There was a point where I looked at the statistics last night up on the board and they were shooting under 40 percent and it was a one-point game," Ray Allen said. "We were playing good defense, but they were getting second-chance opportunities, and it was the small little things that we can correct. The points and the defensive stops take care of themselves if you take care of the small things, so you don't have to worry about getting down in the fourth quarter or [making] free throws or [making] a defensive stand if you're up seven or nine points because you took care of those small things."

Even with a 2-0 advantage over the Knicks, the Celtics know they have done little to inspire much confidence, as most pundits were already leery given the way Boston stumbled to the finish line of the regular season, losing 11 of its final 21 games.

But Celtics players also know that one complete, 48-minute effort could go a long way toward building that consumer confidence. In winning two games, Boston has done nothing more than what's expected of a higher seed thus far. But a couple of dominating efforts in New York would have observers restoring the Celtics to championship material before the conference semifinals open.

"We need one [dominating effort]," Glen Davis said. "We need one, ASAP. The thing about it, we haven't played our best. It's just like, this team playing at our best is hard to beat. When we put 48 minutes together, we'll be alright."

Even if that game doesn't come, the Celtics are content to win ugly, so long as they keep winning. After all, nothing else matters this time of year, when, actually, it's all about 16 playoff wins to earn the Larry O'Brien trophy.

"Hopefully we can get a couple of games [against New York] where -- well, one game -- where we can have a comfortable lead," Rondo said. "But in the playoffs, it's never over. If you watch every other series, guys are up 10 with three minutes to go, [and they are] losing the game. So you've got to continue to grind. It's a grind moment and, in the playoffs, it's all about executing down the stretch."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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