NEW YORK — It feels like the end is near.
When Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL in late January, we all wrote the obituary for the 2012-13 Green Team. But then the Celtics started playing well again and we temporarily lost sight of the fact that they have little chance to advance in the playoffs this spring.
Tuesday night the Celtics were beaten, 87-71, in Game 2 of their first-round series with the overrated Knicks and now we are back to remembering what we felt when Rondo first went down.
It is not impossible, of course, for the Celtics to come back in this series. They’ve been down 0-2 and won a series before. They did it in in the spring of 1969 when Bill Russell and Sam Jones were getting ready to retire.
But it doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen this year. Bill Russell is not walking through that door. Sam Jones is not walking through that door. The Celtics scored 8 points in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and 23 points in the second half of Game 2. They shot an aggregate 14 for 63 in the second halves of the two losses.
The Celtics at this hour are pure bailing wire and glue. They have lost 13 of their last 19 games. Colleague Gary Washburn notes that the Celtics have only one victory over a team with a winning record (Atlanta, which hardly counts) in the last six weeks. Now they are going to beat the Knicks four times in five games?
“We are who we are,’’ said coach Doc Rivers after this one. “We can’t apologize for that. I think it’s good enough to win. We can play better and we have to play better. We’re going back to Boston. There’s a corny old saying that a playoff series hasn’t started until the road team wins a game, but I’m positive this series has started because we’re down, 0-2.’’
“I’m happy with our defense,’’ said Paul Pierce. “If we can turn our offense around a little bit, I like our chances.’’
It will be good to get home, that’s for sure. The Celtics have not played a game in their own gym in two weeks. Getting away from Madison Square Garden certainly will help.
There was a popular notion that Red Auerbach must have liked Madison Square Garden because Red was from Brooklyn. Au contraire. Red always hated this place. It went back to the old-old days of the old Garden when Red’s George Washington team was denied a bid in the National Invitational Tournament. The NIT was a very big deal back then and Red never forgot the snub. He hated the Knicks and he hated the Garden. I still remember a night in the 1990s when the old-timey Celtics and Knicks staged a free-throw contest at halftime. Old Cooz and Old Tommy defeated Old Willis and Old Clyde, and when it was over Red proudly announced, “We kicked their ass!’’
Red would have scoffed at the hype accorded Carmelo Anthony (53 shots, two assists in two games). Red always prided himself in having teams with four or five guys regularly scoring in double figures. He liked the fact that the Celtics never had a scoring champ.
There was a Celtics video airing on the MSG Network throughout the building Tuesday night when the Celtics came out for early shooting. It was amusing to see Red’s image in every corner of the arena’s underbelly. It was also amusing to see Chris Ford standing at courtside in his capacity as a Knicks “coaching consultant.’’
Ford is the man who hit the first 3-point shot in NBA history. He won three championship rings with the Celtics (one as a player and two as an assistant coach) and coached the team for five years. He knew the wisdom of Red and it’s weird to see him working for the Knicks.
“That’ll help us,’’ teased Celtics boss Danny Ainge, who played with Ford at the beginning of his career.
Chatting as he sat on the Celtics bench more than an hour before tipoff, Ainge reminisced about the days when he played alongside four Hall of Famers and fans really got to know the players.
“We didn’t have as much media then and the players were probably more available,’’ said Ainge. “Not now. Today I got 65 reporters standing in our locker room and I’ve got 12 players in the trainer’s room watching cartoons.’’
The Knicks probably needed this one more than the Celtics. The Knicks are the No. 2 seed and therefore, expected to win. They had a much better season than the Celtics and folks in the Apple think this Knicks team can give the Miami Heat a run for their money (pure folly). But we all know the Celtics stand in the way, just as the Celtics always stood in the way of the Pistons in the early days of Isiah and Friends.
The Celtics have had leads in both games. Boston led, 70-63, in Game 1 and held a 9-point lead Tuesday night.
Game 2 didn’t start the way the Celtics had hoped. Boston planned to get Kevin Garnett more involved and KG hit a patented fadeaway in the first minute, then picked up two fouls in 18 seconds and went to the bench. Garnett played only 3:21 of the first 12 minutes.
“With Kevin in foul trouble, we really didn’t have inside presence,’’ said Pierce.
The Celtics outscored the Knicks, 28-16, in the second quarter and led, 48-42, at halftime. Boston’s offense stalled when Garnett went to the bench with his fourth foul with 8:13 left in the third quarter.
“Those fouls on Kevin were horrendous,’’ said Rivers. “And it hurt us.’’
Still proud, KG and Pierce tried to keep the Celtics in the game in the fourth, but there was no beating the Knicks.
Maybe the old Green warriors can stage one last stand and scare the Knicks with a big win at the Garden Friday night.
But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like the end is near.