NEW YORK — The two teams hunkered down in their luxury hotels, watching film, talking of adjustments and improvements following their first encounter here. They practiced. Three days passed.
They emerged Tuesday, re-engaged at Madison Square Garden, and little changed. The Celtics were disgusting in the second half, Kevin Garnett was a non-factor, and Boston left angry, frustrated, and in search of answers it can’t seem to find. Again.
After an 87-71 loss to the New York Knicks in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series, the Celtics trail, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series. Their season is guaranteed just two more games, starting Friday night with Game 3 at TD Garden, and the way the Celtics are playing, their season won’t last much longer.
“I guess they say the series hasn’t started, and I have heard this corny line a million times, until the road team wins,” coach Doc Rivers said.
“I am positive the series has started because we’re down, 2-0.”
Their undoing was dramatic, as the Knicks used a 35-11 run that spanned two halves and the entirety of the third quarter. The Celtics sank like they were wearing concrete shoes in the Hudson River. They didn’t struggle. They reached the bottom, fast.
“They just attacked us, and we didn’t handle it very well, which is tough,” Rivers said.
The whole of the second half mirrored Game 1, when the Celtics scored just 25 points after halftime, including 8 in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, they managed just 23 second-half points, setting a franchise playoff low for points in a half.
In the second half, the Celtics made 7 of 36 shots.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Boston’s 19.4 field-goal percentage after halftime was the worst shooting percentage in any half of a playoff game in the last 15 seasons.
“At the end of the day, as a team we need to come out and play hard in the second half — and we’re not doing that,” guard Avery Bradley said.
More perspective: In the third quarter, Carmelo Anthony scored 13 and the Celtics scored 11. Anthony finished with a game-high 34 points, 2 shy of the total he reached in Game 1.
The Knicks’ Iman Shumpert opened the post-intermission floodgates by hitting consecutive 3-pointers on plays in which the Celtics defense broke down.
“I don’t know what we’re doing wrong at the beginning of third quarters,” Rivers said, “but we gave up those two back-to-back threes, which were huge for them and huge for their confidence.”
The Celtics didn’t do much to stop New York, either.
“It was our defense in the third quarter, clearly,” Rivers said. “We gave up threes that we don’t give up in the series.”
“We didn’t get stops, plain and simple,” said Jeff Green, who scored 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Garnett wasn’t a factor. He had 12 points and 11 rebounds but was saddled with foul trouble. He played 24 minutes.
As hard as it may be to believe, the Celtics were in the game, which makes their fall that much steeper.
The Celtics, aided by a Jordan Crawford 3-pointer and punctuated by a Jason Terry trey, used a 13-2 burst in the first quarter to take a 20-15 lead.
The Knicks ended the quarter by scoring 11 unanswered points, the last 3 of which came on a deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer from J.R. Smith, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year who scored 19 in the game.
And then the Celtics bounced back with a 16-3 run early in the second quarter, a spurt aided by two more 3-pointers from Terry, who finished with 9 points after not scoring at all in Game 1.
Following the Celtics’ run, which put them ahead, 36-30, with 6:21 to go in the second quarter, the game started to be a little more even, with each team answering baskets on possessions.
And the Celtics led, 48-42, at halftime.
“We had a 6-point lead,” Paul Pierce said. “We had a chance to really come out here and make a statement in the third quarter and we didn’t do that. It was the complete opposite.”
Pierce scored 10 points in the first half and 18 for the game to lead Boston, but with Garnett in foul trouble, no one else stepped up.
Rivers said Pierce can carry the Celtics, “but he needs some help. He was playing pretty well. I thought he got a little tired in the second half because he started to do everything for us.”
But Pierce is just one man, and the Celtics need more than that.
“We can defend this team,” Garnett said. “Although this team does score a lot of points, we can defend them. If we’re able to put some points on the board, I like our chances.”
Frustration settled into the Boston locker room, where the players had to accept the fact that all the changes they tried to make didn’t work. They lost again in almost the same way.
“During halftime, we said, ‘Let’s not play like we did last game,’ ” Bradley said.
“We came out and did the same thing.”
It cost the Celtics, again.
Now they return home, where they plan to protect their court if they want to extend their season beyond the next two games, lest it end there with a thud.
“After these two losses, you definitely feel like it’s payback time,” Bradley said. “Everybody’s mad in here, and we can’t wait until the next game.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.