Let's not overreact just yet—it was just game one—this is not the end of the series.
But the Celtics did show an inability to get efficient shot attempts in the half court due to having no true point guard and the bench didn't help either, contributing only four points.
Doc Rivers has got a problem and it's not really his fault. In the past he has had reliable bench players, so rotations were usually set in stone before the playoffs. Heck, in those seasons it would've been concerning if he did something contrary to the norm.
But this year is different; Boston has two players fresh out of playing in China, Shavlik Randolph and Terrence Williams; an NBA veteran who has yet to prove himself in the playoffs, Chris Wilcox; and three inconsistent guards in Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and Jason Terry.
What do you expect Doc to do with that? Nobody truly knows what will work. Some might argue that Doc should know what to do but it must be understood that the productivity that he gets out of these bench players is unpredictable.
Jason Terry was understandably first off the bench in this afternoon's game. Despite the struggles, "JET" is the veteran presence and deserves that opportunity based on past experiences. Unfortunately, he didn't come through at all. He was, as he has been this entire season,"Terryble."
After weeks of stating that he was "preparing for the playoffs," for the first time in his 14-year career, Terry scored no points in a playoff game. He shot 0-of-5 from the field with four missed three-pointers. The worst miss came with 1:44 left in the game when Boston had a chance to cut the lead to two. He shot a wide open three-pointer and missed...as usual.
In a bit of a surprise, Jordan Crawford came off the bench before Courtney Lee. Crawford was unable to provide a spark, with no points or shot attempts, and Doc barely played him for the rest of the game. Courtney Lee wasn't really that effective either—scoring only four points—but at least you can rely on him to play consistently good defense.
An even bigger surprise was the lack of a backup big man. Both Shavlik Randolph and Chris Wilcox got the statline no player wants to see, "Did Not Play- Coach's Decision."
But again, can you blame Doc? Would Shav' or Wilcox—both with only two total minutes of playoff experience—really have made a difference? Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are the only the only true bigs on the Knicks and anytime they were on the court, Kevin Garnett or Brandon Bass usually were too. Most of New York's backups are three-point shooters, so Doc has to put a lineup on the floor that can defend that.
Both Wilcox and Randolph are far too slow when closing out at the three-point line which is why Doc has to shuffle his lineup with the three backup guards. Had Doc played one of those two, it's unlikely New York would've countered with Marcus Camby or Earl Barron. They would've stuck with their same rotations and just made Boston pay with open three-point shots.
The problems occurring on the bench stem from an injury that occurred to a certain player by the name of Rajon Rondo. We all remember when some fans said, "the C's are better without Rondo!" Boston went on a seven game winning streak after his torn-ACL and certain fans felt that it might've been Rondo holding the team back after a 20-23 start to the season.
On February 7, after the Celtics beat the Lakers to win their sixth game during that seven game winning streak, Doc Rivers said,
"I like the way we're playing, I like our vibe and spirit. We're playing selfless and free. That's how we have to be. Our pace has to stay. We're honestly not good enough ball handlers to play half court. We can't get stuck in that. We don't have one guy that is good enough with the ball to orchestra our offense." (Quote courtesy of CSNNE)
Doc mentioned that no one was good enough of a ball handler to play in the half court and that's what we saw this from the Celtics in game one against the Knicks. That's why Doc Rivers went with Jordan Crawford before Courtney Lee; Crawford is a better ball handler. But even then, he's extremely inconsistent and Doc doesn't know what he'll get from him.
Avery Bradley struggled with four turnovers, including multiple instances when he threw a weak pass to a player on the post. The pass would either be tipped away or flat out stolen. He wasn't the only player having problems though.
When the offense wasn't run through a guard, Paul Pierce or Jeff Green were usually used. Green ended up with six turnovers and Pierce had four. Not all of the turnovers came from passes but the problem still stems from the lack of efficiency in the half court.
While some calls on the Jeff Green charges were arguable, there is no denying that they were difficult shots and not very efficient. Without a true point guard, Boston is struggling getting off easy shots. If it weren't for Jeff Green's amazing first half, the C's likely never would've had it close.
Playoff basketball calls for a team that plays quality basketball in the half court. When the Celtics won the NBA title back in 2008, a lot of "experts" thought Rondo would be a weakness for the team because of his youth. Little did they realize that he was already a great distributor or "orchestrator" (as Doc Rivers puts it) when running the Celtics half court offense.
Five years later, Boston doesn't have that orchestrator. Not a single guard on this roster is a true point. The closest player to that is Terrence Williams and he has not proven that he can consistently get it done in a playoff situation. Avery Bradley is a stud on the defensive end but he leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end. Without Rondo or another true point guard, this team isn't effective in the half court.
So what is Doc Rivers supposed to do?
Well, no one really knows.
He'll probably keep experimenting. Terrence Williams might even get a chance at running point off of the bench. He could go big and play Randolph or Wilcox.
It's not over yet, Boston has only dropped one game and they still could be good enough to beat New York as is. But the deficiencies in the half court and the inconsistent bench are truly concerning.
I do know this though: The "vibe, spirit, selflessness, freedom, and pace" that Doc Rivers talked about back on February 7th is totally gone.
That's not because of anything the Boston Celtics have done—it's because it's now the NBA playoffs.
Unlike the regular season, the playoffs are dirty. They're gritty. They're intense. They're fierce.
Just like this Boston Celtics team can be.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jeff Green certainly fit that criteria.
Come Tuesday night, when the Boston Celtics play game two against the New York Knicks, this Celtics team can potentially overcome their problems by playing towards their strengths: Grit. Heart. Intensity.