[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or the second time this week, the Celtics (38-35) were unable to compete with a team that now owns the longest streak in the NBA. The Knicks (46-26) won their eighth straight on Sunday night as they steamrolled through a porous C’s defense. Boston played well enough on the offensive end, but Without Kevin Garnett in the lineup, they were simply unable to contain one of the top scoring teams in the league.
The Celts uptempo approach was successful against an inconsistent Hawks squad on Friday, as they won convincingly for the first time in nearly two weeks. However this was an entirely different type of opponent. Facing a hated divisional rival and all the animosity which that entails is a scenario that the C’s are familiar with, however it’s also a situation where they depend on hard-nosed defense to keep the game competitive, even if it is on the road. That defense is only a shell of itself without K.G., and for the second time this week, it showed.
You can’t say enough about how big Paul Pierce has been for this team. The Captain averaged 19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game, while shooting 50.4 percent in the month of March. Boston has always depended on Pierce’s offense, but the way he has rebounded the ball on the defensive end has been an unexpected lift. While he managed to pull down 12 defensive boards (15 total) in Sunday night’s game, the rest of the team did not match his effort, as no other Celtics player had more than four rebounds.
It’s not as though Pierce has been a one-man band, since Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and others have stepped up in stretches. Yet the theme of the Captain flirting with a triple-double while carrying the offensive load and trying to check the opposition’s best wing player is becoming a troubling recurrence.
With Garnett resting his swollen ankle, it’s difficult for Doc Rivers to give Pierce some much needed rest. However, Pierce is not expected to play when the C’s fly out to Minnesota for the second half of a back-to-back on Monday night. He seemed to turn his ankle towards the end of Sunday night’s game, but apparently told teammates “I’m fine” as he iced it in the fourth quarter.
A little rest should help the veteran to continue his strong play during the Celts upcoming four-game home stand, and perhaps he will be joined by his running mate (K.G.) as Boston looks to shore up some of their defensive issues before the playoffs.
Only nine games remain on the Celtics schedule, and since they’re 2.5 games ahead of the 8th place Bucks, and 2.5 games behind the 6th place Hawks, they seem to be bound for the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. That would set up a first round matchup with either the Indiana Pacers, or these New York Knicks, yet the next time these classic rivals meet, expect the C’s to show a lot more defensive backbone then they have during this past week.