Game Notes: Celtics at Pacers
Foul trouble leads to inconsistency, and ultimately an L, for the Cs.
The Cs came out flat on the defensive end in the fourth quarter, allowing the Pacers to go on a 11-4 run in the first 4:30 of the quarter and relinquished their lead in the process. Their first field goal came at the 7:21 mark, when a Ray Allen layup cut their deficit to 92-91. The lead see-sawed for the next few moments until the game was tied at 94 with 5:47 to play after Allen split a pair at the line.
From this point forward, the game seemed to go to the team that needed it more, and that team was clearly the Pacers. Darren Collison hit a foul-line jumper coming off of a pick-and-roll, Brandon Rush (8 points, 4 boards) cut to the rim for an easy deuce thanks to a great find by Hibbert (operating in the high post), and Collison out-hustled Rondo to a critical loose ball near mid-court and finished alone on the other end with a double-clutch dunk, which forced Doc Rivers to burn a timeout in an attempt to regroup after Indiana’s quick 6-0 run.
“In the most important part of the game, the fourth quarter, we couldn’t get a stop right there,” said Paul Pierce, who summed up the essential problem. “We have to make up our minds right now. It’s a weird time to be talking about this — when there’s nine games left in the season. I’m frustrated with the inconsistency we’re playing with.”
Unfortunately for Doc and his Cs, the shots didn’t fall down the stretch and stops were tougher to come by than a cornfield in Indiana.
“The bottom line is we let a team shoot 66 percent in the fourth quarter, we were 6-12 from the free-throw line, so we kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” Rivers stated.
And by shooting themselves in the foot, the Pacers have moved that much closer to a Playoff birth.
“This was a great team win and hopefully a warm-up for the Playoffs,” said point guard AJ Price (15 points, 3 assists). “We’re not there yet, but we’re very close.”
Jermaine on the cusp of return
With his bigs in foul trouble, Doc Rivers was wishing Jermaine O’Neal or Shaq O’Neal were back to bail them out.
“I thought defensively we were just bad the whole night,” said Rivers. “It’s tough when you’ve got your bigs on the bench. Kevin Garnett and Nenad Krstic were in foul trouble and tonight we needed that extra big body.”
This type of performance warrants concern from the Celtics and their fans. The foul trouble caused problems at both ends all game long and going forward, the biggest cause for concern would have to be thinking that just a few months ago their girth inside was believed to be their biggest advantage heading into the postseason.
“They’ve been without us for most of the year,’’ Jermaine O’Neal said. “It’s even tougher when you’re watching the games. I’m watching the games and they look tired. You want to do whatever you can do to give them a break.”
With just nine games left, the Celtics appear to be on the cusp of regaining some much needed size and strength on the interior.
“I’m able to go, no limitations,” said the center.
Doc Rivers, whose opinion must be taken into consideration also, thought that it was doubtful that Jermaine would make his return by Thursday.
“There’s a chance, but I doubt it,’’ said Rivers. “It’s just so quick. Honestly, the only way is if we had some other injury or something. Even then, I doubt if I’d do it. I’d go with the six guys we’d have in uniform.’’
Though his knee problems were diagnosed in November, he initially decided to rest instead of undergoing surgery. But the progress seemed to be stunted and JO opted for surgery in late January even though he knew that meant he would have to wait until the final weeks of the season to come back.
“You make your decisions and you stand with them,’’ O’Neal said. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose time. That’s what we’re fighting with: losing time. And you end up losing it anyway. It’s hard to regret stuff. You make decisions and you go with it. You wish it would have happened differently.
“In a perfect world, should I have done it earlier? Absolutely… We exhausted all of our options and then got to a point where there were no more options.’’
Barely clinging to the 2-seed in the East, the Cs are relying very heavily on beaten up size and strength on the interior to beat their Playoff foes as they head toward their third straight Finals appearance.
Of course, health is the first and foremost concern. Ultimately, the most important aspect of this whole ordeal will be how the big men are integrated into the Cs’ offense and whether or not they can gain the necessary chemistry to make a deep run.
A once unthinkable thought, now 73 games into the season, it is feasible to believe that chemistry could be the undoing of the green team down the stretch this season.