In defeat, Celtics let defense rest
NEW YORK — Kendrick Perkins could sense it from the start of the game.
The game plan was in green, blue, and red on the dry erase board as always. It was slightly smudged, the crush of media crowding the room to the point where backs were pressed against the board. But the game plan was there on the board.
It just never made it to the floor. Not even in the first quarter of the Celtics’ 104-101 loss last night to the Knicks.
“We weren’t executing our defense that we went over,’’ Perkins said. “We started making up stuff on the fly. When you don’t execute and you do what you want to do, that’s what happens.’’
The Celtics let Earl Barron, a Miami Heat castaway that the Knicks picked up just days earlier, make his first three shots en route to a 17-point, 18-rebound outing, and it was like igniting the pilot light. As the Celtics slept through the first half against the Knicks after surviving a prize fight with Cleveland Sunday, they let Sergio Rodgriguez heat up, scoring 8 of his 14 points in the second. Then they let Danilo Gallinari explode for 19 of his 31 points in the third.
The Celtics had played with fire before, allowing their past three opponents to reach the century mark. But last night, they were dealing with a blowtorch.
When Gallinari pulled up with 36 seconds left, the toe of his sneaker just barely touching the 3-point line at the top of the key, the Celtics couldn’t even bring themselves to shake their head as the shot banked in to put the Knicks up, 102-101.
“It’s the basketball gods telling us you can’t play with the game,’’ Kevin Garnett said.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who had defended his team’s effort after bad losses earlier in the season, couldn’t defend this one. Not after seeing his team shoot 55 percent and lose for the fourth time in five games. Not after seeing the lack of energy and the effort.
“I thought we absolutely deserved that,’’ Rivers said. “I would have liked to win, but when you play with that kind of focus, you lose basketball games. There’s other games where we just didn’t play well or whatever. Tonight, I was disappointed. It was a tough game to watch throughout. You just see it not being there. Just the defensive lapses. To me that’s just a direct result of focus.’’
The game was never out of reach. There were points when Ray Allen was actually grinning as the Knicks’ Chris Duhon chased him around the court. Allen pulled up for a 25-footer that put the Celtics up, 47-46, with 2:11 left in the second quarter. But then the focus would drift. With 3.6 seconds left, Allen fouled Toney Douglas, putting the 82.7 percent free throw shooter on the line to hit a pair as the half closed with the Knicks up, 53-52.
In Garnett’s words, Gallinari had “tunnel vision’’ in the third quarter, going 6 for 9 and practically daring anyone to meet him on the perimeter. But even after the Knicks ran their lead as high as 8 points, the Celtics were still able to close the deficit to 1 early in the fourth on a sequence in which Nate Robinson drilled a three on one possession, then set up Glen Davis for a jumper on the next.
It was a false sense of security.
“We made up our mind we thought we were going to win at any point and we could score whenever we wanted to and all of a sudden you get outhustled,’’ Rivers said.
Garnett offered no excuses.
“I didn’t think we played good basketball at all,’’ he said. “I don’t know what you call it, but we can’t come out and play like that. We just played like . . . we played like crap tonight.’’
A letdown after the win over the Cavaliers?
“That’s over,’’ Garnett said. “You’ve got to respect each team in this league. You’ve got to come to play every night. You can’t pick and choose when you want to play.
“You can’t pick and choose when you want to execute. You can’t pick and choose when you want to play defense. You’ve got to prepare and play defense. You’ve got to prepare and play each team as if you’re playing Cleveland.’’
Said Perkins, “We’re just two different teams from what I saw Sunday. It was just two different basketball teams.’’