Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Celtics split for Indiana

But which team will show up in Game 3?

WALTHAM -- Coach Doc Rivers often diffuses criticism with one sentence that says everything and nothing. "We are who we are," Rivers offers in response to queries about slow starts, inconsistent defense, and just about any other anomaly in the way the Celtics play.

But with the players showing opposite personalities in the first two games of their first-round playoff series with Indiana -- deep, dominant, and focused in Game 1, vulnerable, immature, and easily unhinged in Game 2 -- the question remains, just who are they?

With Antoine Walker calling Game 2 uncharacteristic and Rivers commenting that the 3-point loss was as close as a team can come to giving a game away, it's clear which version the Celtics believe is most accurate.

"I'm not worried about anybody," said Walker. "Think about this: A lot of people on our team didn't have a good game and they won by 3. You've got to think about that, too. We'll be all right. It's a long way to go."

While everyone except Walker and Paul Pierce played well below expectations in Monday's loss, the Celtics' true identity is probably somewhere between the performances of the first two games.

The Celtics are not exactly the offensive juggernaut that scored 102 points and shot 51 percent in Game 1. Nor are they quite the committed defenders who held the Pacers to 35 percent from the floor and forced 22 turnovers. Game 1 may have represented Boston's most complete defensive performance of the year. And the bench may not have another 40-point night in these playoffs.

On the flip side, the Celtics are not as fragile as they appeared in Game 2, though their failure to produce in the fourth quarter (10 points) was reminiscent of early-season losses. They figured the bench would not perform the way it did in Game 1. They knew the young players would show their age. But after watching film for about 45 minutes yesterday, Rivers believes the problems can be easily fixed.

"Showing them the last seven minutes would make anybody who was a Celtics fan cry," said Rivers. "It really would. It was bad basketball. It looked like we let our guard down. It was as simple as that. We got the lead and I don't know if we played not to lose, but they saw [what it was].

"We do have to make some adjustments, less than I thought after watching the game. Give Indiana credit -- they made big shots down the stretch; but some of those shots were layups, dunks, shots that should have been avoided.

"I'm glad they saw it. I'm glad they talked about it."

Rivers believes Boston can play better defense, even though Indiana scored 82 points in both games. Given the slow pace of Game 2, he thought the Pacers should have posted even fewer points. While Indiana shot just 41 percent in Game 2, expect to see greater defensive intensity in Game 3. The Celtics need to do a better job of frustrating the Pacers' top scorers, as they did in Game 1. Improving defensively, however, is just one thing Boston must do.

While Rivers always has maintained that the offense will take care of itself, that philosophy seemed to undergo a slight revision. The Celtics failed to move the ball effectively Monday night. According to the coaching staff, the team took two-thirds of its shots after one or two passes. When that happened, the Celtics scored less than 40 percent of the time. In Game 1, Boston took almost two-thirds of its shots after three or more passes and shot better than 50 percent.

The Pacers, said Rivers, "didn't make any big adjustments that were earth-shattering. We played differently and we allowed them to guard us and now we've given them confidence because of it.

"It would be one thing if it was the first time that I've said, `Guys, we've got to keep moving the ball.' This is the 90th time, maybe. They do it and then they don't.

"You can't forget that this is the first year that we've changed a lot of habits. Those old habits are going to come back. Even though we took the lead, I still never thought we took the lead by playing our way. That doesn't mean running. That means sharing. I thought we just made shots."

The players understand what went wrong. The Celtics know ball movement is essential. And because they moved the ball well in Game 1, they figure it should be easy to recapture that flow in Game 3.

"We feel like we're fine," said Walker. "We'll stay with our game plan, what we feel like we're capable of doing. We're doing a great job defensively. We feel like we've just got to get better offensively. We've got to get back to executing, moving the ball around, especially down the stretch."

It's not a matter of whether the Celtics can move the ball, but will they? That all depends on which team shows up tomorrow night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

online extras
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives