AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Big Three, where were you?
No, hold it. No more talk about a Big Three until they win something. And, please, no more of that (admittedly humorous) ESPN promo. Right now it's an insult to the real Big Three.
You can talk about the bench, and, yup, you need a bench. But in the long run, the Celtics have been constructed around three high-priced veteran stars. And they simply cannot come up as small as they did as a unit last night. It's just not acceptable.
It was an absolutely brutal collective evening at the Palace of Auburn Hills for the vaunted Celtics trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. On an evening when officials Bob Delaney, Danny Crawford, and Scott Foster saw fit to reward the Celtics with an unheard-of 39 free throw attempts in a road playoff game, a big game from any one of the three might have enabled the Celtics to come out with a W.
But no one came up big, and the result was a 94-75 Detroit victory that tied the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 and ensured that we'll all be back to the Palace for a Game 6 Friday.
The numbers are revealing enough. Mssrs. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen shot a collective 11 for 38 from the floor. Garnett hit one every once in a while, but the other two were out of it completely. Pierce was 3 for 14 and Allen was an abysmal 2 for 8 that, once again, did not include an outside shot. Right now it appears as if that 25-point eruption in Game 2 was an aberration. Until proven otherwise, the Ray Allen the coach is stuck with is the one on display last night.
The overall Celtics offensive look was horrifying. There was a point in this game when they had 15 field goals and 30 free throws. The period-by-period field goal count: 3-8-4-6. That's 21 field goals for an entire playoff game. Wilt used to have that by halftime himself. There was a field goal drought of 7:50 in the third quarter. The Celtics had two field goals in the first six minutes of the final period. They had only the 32 free throws to thank for the fact that they were ever in the game.
And, believe it or not, they were.
For with 4:50 to go, a Pierce follow-up of his own miss cut the deficit to a manageable 5 at 78-73. That makes you very much alive in an NBA game. Allen was able to draw a questionable offensive foul on Rip Hamilton, and there they were, 5 down with the ball and oodles of time to get the job done.
Possession one: Pierce misses a fadeaway in the lane.
Possession two: Garnett has the ball in transition, looking right down the lane and neither takes a legitimate jumper nor takes it to the hoop. He passes off, the result being a difficult field goal attempt for Rajon Rondo. Rasheed Wallace gets to the line at the other end and sinks them both.
Possession three: Allen drives the lane, finds he has no shot, and is unable to connect with Garnett on the dish. The ball goes to Detroit, and Chauncey Billups hits one of Detroit's two 3-pointers. The Celtics are down 10, 83-73, and this baby is over.
Garnett did have 16 points and 10 rebounds, and there have been plenty of occasions when a Kevin Garnett 16-10 game is a thing of beauty. This was not one of those games.
This was one of those games that Garnett's critics cite when they maintain he lacks that certain something that distinguishes the true superstars from the just plain very good players. On at least three occasions in the fourth quarter he received the ball in what could only be termed a scoring position for a player with his enormous repertoire of shots, only to decide that passing the ball was a better option.
Plain and simple, he left important shots on the table.
Doc Rivers defended his guy, but what else could he do?
"Kevin had shots he normally makes, and he didn't make them," said Rivers. "I just thought he didn't have shots when we wanted to get him the ball. He had a lot of jumpers and elbow jumpers instead of getting them on the post and establishing the post game through him."
That might have been the case over the long haul, but it doesn't address the way Garnett played in the fourth quarter, when there were opportunities to make significant statements. There comes a time when he has to stop being Mr. Nice Guy and take charge. He did it in the final minute of Cleveland Game 2, but that Kevin Garnett has not graced anyone with his presence again.
Pierce just couldn't shoot last evening. He was favored with free throws by the officiating crew, but he never got into a shooting rhythm. He'll be all right.
As for Allen, the nightmarish postseason continues. He again went through long stretches when he couldn't get off any kind of shot, and when he did have a couple of good open looks at threes, he wasn't even close. He is now shooting 38 percent in the playoffs, 30 percent on threes.
Anyone can have a bad night, sure, but wasn't the point of a Big You-Know-What that there was this tremendous safety in numbers? Shut down one, maybe. Shut down two, perhaps. But shut down all of them at once? Impossible. But that's what happened last night.
The other thing about these guys is that they are supposed to be able to help each other.
"We only had one assist in the first quarter," Allen pointed out. "Any time that happens, we're not going to do ourselves any favors at trying to score."
That's certainly true. Of course, they only had three baskets to begin with.
I'm not picking on, or scapegoating, the Big You-Know-What. But, as we say in sports, "This is why we pay you the big money."
Last night the owners did not get what they're paying for. Fortunately, there's a lot more basketball to be played.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.