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Down 2-0, Are The Celtics Dead In Round One? Of Course Not

The Celtics dropped two games in New York, and now their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series heads back to Boston. Are the C's dead, or do they still have something left against these Knicks? Here are 10 signs pointing to the latter.

KG's not giving up without a fight.
KG's not giving up without a fight.

By now you probably already know the numbers, and you're well aware that from the Celtics' perspective, they're not pretty. The old adage that "a series doesn't start until the home team loses" is complete poppycock -- a series is very, very much underway by the time one team's up 2-0, and in fact, it's darned close to over.

In NBA history, only 15 teams have ever come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a playoff series. Oklahoma City roared back against the once-unbeatable Spurs in the West finals last spring to become the 15th; the Celtics tried to be the 16th against Miami in the East, even going up 3-2 at one point, but ultimately fell short.

It doesn't matter whether you're at home, on the road or on Neptune. Coming back from 0-2 is insanely tough.

So are the Celtics dead, then? They might have one foot in the grave already (and probably a sprained ankle attached to it), but the C's are returning home to the TD Garden for Game 3 tonight, and with a win, they can make this a series again.

It's hard to be optimistic, given how dreadfully the first two games of this series went, but let's dig deep. Here are 10 reasons the Celtics aren't quite done.

1. This is the Knicks we're talking about.
The Knicks still haven't won a playoff series, nor have they won a single playoff game on the road, since May 21, 2000. Yes, 2000. The No. 1 song in America was "Maria Maria" by Santana; the No. 1 movie was Dinosaur. Yeah, I know -- it's a totally different team now, the Knicks have evolved a million times over in the last 13 years, and it's silly to compare anyone to anyone across eras like that. But it's the Knicks. I don't care if the irrationally confident guy chucking jumpers is J.R. Smith or Latrell Sprewell, I'm going to be a little queasy either way. This team has always been unpredictable. They could plow the Celtics over the next two games, or they could choke.

2. Regression to the mean is a thing.
The Celtics went 7-for-36 from the field in the second half of Game 2. I'll grant you that part of that is terrible shot selection, and part of it is the Knicks' defense as well. But c'mon. Seven of 36? Part of it's fluky, too. I mean, look at this shot chart. The C's were cold from every single spot on the floor. This will not keep up in Games 3 and 4. It's basic probability.

3. Can Carmelo keep this up?
Carmelo Anthony is a high-volume shooter. The Knicks live with him and die with him. Lately, they've been doing much more living. But Melo has been known to occasionally put up a stinker or two when a good defensive team like the Celtics clamps down. For reference, here are Melo's four shooting clips in the Knicks' four-game series against the C's in 2011: 10-for-24, 4-for-16, 14-for-30, 5-for-18. In other words, two competent games and two awful ones. Melo may be hot right now, but he does have a habit of shooting his teams out of postseason games, and he may be overdue for such a performance this year.

4. The Celtics will improve their ball movement.
The C's aren't stupid. They know that with a rotation of five starters, three extra shooting guards and basically nothing else, they need jump shots to survive. They know that means ball movement is crucial. They know that they're averaging 16 team assists per game so far in this series, and that the average in today's NBA is just over 22. They know to make adjustments in that department going forward. Paul Pierce already has 13 assists in this series, but he needs to do even more as a playmaker. Avery Bradley, Jason Terry and the rest of the C's perimeter players will keep it moving as well.

5. Kevin Garnett can be better, and he will.
KG's been close to a non-factor so far in this series. He had eight points and four rebounds in Game 1, getting outplayed by Kenyon Martin; he got in foul trouble in Game 2, rendering him even worse. Hip injury or not, KG is too prideful to go out like this. He's going to give a better effort in Games 3 and 4 even if it kills him. Which, you know, it might.

6. Paul Pierce will make adjustments against Raymond Felton.
It's become the biggest story of this series, X's and O's-wise: The Celtics' big lineup and the Knicks' small lineup have converged such that the 6-foot-1 Felton is guarding the 6-foot-7 Pierce, and the C's have overreacted to the mismatch. It's natural to go to Pierce, but Boston is going to him every single time, and it's created a predictability problem that's made life very easy for the Knicks defensively. Pierce will be smarter in Game 3, figuring out when he can shoot without being contested and when he can pass without turning it over. The balancing act takes time.

7. Jason Terry has been here before.
I've never been big on intangibles like experience, but I do think it means a little something that of all those teams who have overcome 0-2 deficits, one included a current Celtic -- Terry was a member of the 2005 Mavericks team that came back to eliminate Houston in the first round. Terry was a big part of it, going off for 32 points in a pivotal Game 4 win on 11-of-18 shooting, 6-of-8 from long distance. Terry knows not to get frazzled with his team trailing early. He's had a rocky debut season in Boston, but he also has the savvy to keep his head in the game mentally. His shots might start falling.

8. Brandon Bass is still an untapped resource.
Bass is shooting 4-for-8 from the field this season and 2-for-2 from the line. Percentage-wise, that's pretty solid, but the Celtics haven't been going to him. He's even had some favorable matchups in this series, often finding himself up against Kenyon Martin (too old, too slow) or Carmelo (quick, and physically tough, but he's easily screened and Bass is also long enough to shoot over him). Why not more Bass? His usage rate is currently at a meager 6.0, slotting him 146th in the postseason. He's sandwiched between guys like Ekpe Udoh and -- get this -- Courtney Lee. The C's need more Bass than that. Once they realize it, they'll be a more potent team offensively.

9. Doc Rivers isn't going down like this.
Doc didn't get fined $25,000 for griping about officials just on a whim. He made a calculated move, knowing it was worth the hefty penalty if he could game the officials a little bit and give his team a leg up in Games 3 and 4. He's too motivated and too crafty to go down without a fight, and that's exactly the kind of coach you want on your side in a time of need. Doc might not be having a great series tactically, but he's a proven motivator who's going to stick with this team when times get tough.

10. This is the Knicks we're talking about.
Again, it's the Knicks. They're creaky and fragile. Their knees are gimpy and their feet are falling off. Jason Kidd has been in the league since 1981. Marcus Camby has an AARP card. Kurt Thomas is an actual fossil, disguised as a human being wearing a basketball uniform.

I'm not saying they can't win a playoff series. But it still does seem a bit far-fetched, and I'm not willing to believe it until I officially see it. Until further notice, the Celtics are still alive, still fighting for the right to advance in these Eastern Conference playoffs.

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