The Celtics were once again in a precarious position during the second half of their Game 4 win Sunday against the New York Knicks at TD Garden.
For much of the half, they had no primary ballhandler on the court.
Forwards Jeff Green and Brandon Bass were out there, along with center Kevin Garnett, as well as Jason Terry and Paul Pierce, who are scorers first and foremost.
And it was around this point that the Knicks, who lead the first-round playoff series, 3-1, heading into Wednesday’s Game 5 in New York, started to turn up their defensive pressure, which has routinely thrown off the Celtics this series.
It did again Sunday, specifically in the third quarter of the Celtics’ 97-90 overtime win.
The Celtics scored just 14 points in the quarter — Knicks guard Raymond Felton scored 16 — and Boston’s 20-point lead had shrunk to 3 entering the fourth.
Coach Doc Rivers said he knew at halftime, when the Celtics led by 19, that the Knicks would turn up the pressure, telling his players, “They know who our ballhandler is.”
Because the Celtics are without floor general Rajon Rondo and because Avery Bradley is a shooting guard who Rivers has said is overwhelmed right now at the point guard position, Boston’s only option at times is the 6-foot-9-inch Green.
“I’ve never had our [power forward] at times be our ballhandler, but, I mean, that’s who we are right now,” Rivers said. “And Jeff can do that for us.”
Said Terry: “When they pressure, we gotta use Jeff as a pressure release. [Carmelo Anthony] doesn’t want to come up and guard him full court. And Jeff, in full court, he’s as tough as they come. He’s got the LeBron [James] speed, the strength to attack the basket in the open court.”
Turning up heat
The Knicks had 13 turnovers in Game 1, 10 in Game 2, 11 in Game 3, and 16 in Game 4, including an eye-popping 13 in the first half.
“I think that’s what we lacked those first couple games. Our pressure. Pressure on the ball, pressure on the passer,” said Green.
“We’re going to force turnovers. We have to continue to keep the added pressure on the guys when they’re trying to make post passes to Carmelo. We’ve gotta put them on their heels.”
Garnett in flow
Garnett took seven shots Sunday, making five.
“Shots is not a priority for me,” he pointed out. “Being aggressive on offense [is]. Obviously when the ball comes to me I’m trying to be aggressive with my opportunities, but more importantly, getting guys open. Wreaking havoc on defense, being active, those things. Not just the scoring.”
Said Pierce: “Sometimes we forget about him in the offense, we get too perimeter-oriented taking a lot of jump shots. But Kevin, he’s our bread and butter down in the post and we’ve got to give it to him and play inside-out. Most of the time when we get the ball to Kevin, good things are going to happen.”
Trying to hack it
Foul trouble has been an issue for the Celtics all series. Not just Garnett, but also Pierce, Green, and Brandon Bass – all of whom have guarded Anthony.
“We’ve just got to limit our fouls,” Pierce said. “For one, when we send them to the free throw line, it stops the clock and it gives them points without the clock moving, it gives them a chance to get back in the game.”