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Celtics know they must return to team game

Ball must be shared if they are to prevail

Celtics captain Paul Pierce

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Celtics captain Paul Pierce said one of the keys to success is to get the ball to one of the team’s best passers, Kevin Garnett, more often.

NEW YORK — The Celtics could tell where Saturday’s game was headed.

They had seen it all before during the regular season, most often in hyped-up contests in which they faced an upper-echelon foe.

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For stretches in those games, Boston played exactly how it had to without floor general Rajon Rondo orchestrating the offense — it shared the ball.

Playing that way led to the Celtics receiving contributions from several players, which resulted in big leads and several impressive wins. But in many of those games, the ball movement came to a complete halt late in games.

And then the offense turned to junk as players started jacking up bad shots. And then the whole team fell out of rhythm, leading to sloppy play, especially turnovers — lots of turnovers.

The Celtics lose when that happens, as you might imagine, leading coach Doc Rivers to give a simple diagnosis for his team’s demise that is starting to sound like a broken record:

Individual players tried too hard to win the game by themselves.

In the Celtics’ 85-78 loss to the New York Knicks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, Rivers again said the players’ individual approach ended up with them sabotaging their team’s chances.

“They want to win, and that’s a good thing,” Rivers said Sunday before his team gathered to watch film in its Manhattan hotel.

“And now you’ve got to get them to understand you’ve got to win together. You’re not going to do this by yourself. There’s no single guy that could.”

Was the playoff stage too big? Kevin Garnett thought not.

“It’s not like when you get into the playoffs now you suddenly forget,” he said. “We’ve been playing like this since Rondo went down, so it’s not an issue.”

The Celtics haven’t had much continuity in the lineup over the last few weeks, with players in and out because of rest or injuries.

Was that a factor? Paul Pierce thought not.

“It doesn’t matter who we put out there on the court or how long we’ve been there,” he said. “That’s our system. We know when we play that way, we’re successful.”

The Celtics had 21 turnovers, and Avery Bradley had four, but he threw several egregious entry passes to Garnett down low that he had no chance of catching.

To help take pressure off Bradley, a shooting guard who is playing point guard in Rondo’s absence, Pierce said the offense should run more through Garnett.

“He’s one of our best passers, he’s one of our most unselfish players,” Pierce said. “We have to do a better job of just getting him the ball a lot more than he got it.”

Garnett made his first two shots, but finished 4 for 12. He scored 8 points.

“We’ve got to get Kevin more involved,” Rivers said. “There’s lots of ways to do that.”

Garnett said he was pleased overall with how he rebounded and played defense, but, he said of his offense, “I’d like to be a little more aggressive.”

A concern Rivers raised is that other Celtics relied too much on Pierce and Green to score late in the game.

“They just kept throwing it to them and standing and said, ‘Go do something,’ ” Rivers said. “That’s just hard to win that way.”

So hard, in fact, that the Celtics had a historically awful second half, scored 25 points, their lowest total in a half in any of their 592 playoff games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Celtics also scored 8 points in the fourth quarter, tying a franchise playoff record; the only other time the Celtics scored that few in a quarter in a playoff game, Elias noted, came in the first quarter of the franchise’s first playoff game: a 79-72 loss to the Chicago Stags on March 28, 1948.

Pierce thought that he and Green — who combined to have 12 turnovers — have to be more responsible in spreading the ball around and getting players such as Garnett and others involved.

“We’ve got to look at the box score and see about five, six, seven guys in double figures,” he said. “We know when we have that type of box score, we’re at our best.”

The Celtics played only three reserves in Game 1 as the Knicks outscored the Celtics in bench points, 33-4. Rivers said that Jordan Crawford, who took no shots, should have played more off the bench in the second half and that Green, who started, played too many minutes (46).

Rivers also said he might add one player to the playoff rotation, but he wouldn’t say whom.

And then there was Jason Terry, whom Rivers kept on a short leash because Terry’s inconsistent regular-season play quickly showed itself Saturday.

Terry missed all five of his shots in 20 minutes, going scoreless for the first time in his 88-game playoff career.

Rivers said there is more they can do to get Terry involved, and that involves floor spacing and ball movement, the same factors the coach mentioned with Garnett.

The Celtics planned to see all of these issues played back on film in their hotel, where the Chicago Bulls, who Brooklyn beat by 17 points Saturday, are also staying.

“This was a quiet, dark hotel last night,” Rivers said. “The New York area teams didn’t treat the guests very well.”

If the Celtics want to avoid another gloomy late night retreat to their comfortable quarters in this city after Game 2 Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, they had better fix the mistakes that led to their Game 1 loss — mistakes Rivers called correctable.

Now, these mistakes aren’t anything the Celtics haven’t committed or tried to stop from committing before. It’s just that now, too many of these familiar errors, such as zero ball movement, will lead to a swift postseason exit and an early start to their vacation.

Baxter Holmes can be reached at baxter.holmes@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BaxterHolmes.
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