NEW YORK -- Following the Celtics' 85-78 loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, head coach Doc Rivers felt Jeff Green had been asked to do too much, between his scoring and having to defend Carmelo Anthony. But after Tuesday's 87-71 loss in Game 2, Rivers believed Paul Pierce was the overburdened Celtic, as Boston's captain couldn't will his team through its second consecutive game of second-half offensive woes.
Over 37:38 of floor time, Pierce had 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting and six rebounds and six assists, but he committed a team-high five turnovers and finished a game-worst minus-28 in plus/minus.
But in a game that saw Kevin Garnett battle foul trouble throughout, Green contribute a mere 10 points and the Celtics fall victim to some of the same problems on offense that hampered them in Game 1, Rivers summed up Pierce's night as trying to mask the team's many weak spots.
"He needs some help," Rivers said. "I think Paul was playing pretty well. He started getting tired in the second half because he tried to do everything."
The Celtics mustered just 23 second-half points in Tuesday's loss, the lowest second-half scoring output in franchise playoff history. Even more frustrating for the Celtics was how reminiscent it all was of Game 1, as a lack of ball movement and an aggressive Knicks defense hampered Boston's ability to put the ball in the basket.
Pierce wanted to keep his team in the game. He wanted to match Carmelo Anthony -- who scored a game-high 34 points -- shot for shot, isolation play for isolation play. But he couldn't, and it's unlikely that'll be how Boston fights its way back into this series, if it even can.
In the two off days between Games 1 and 2, the Celtics stressed the importance of not forcing certain looks or matchups on the offensive end. But they've found over the first two games that that's what happens when the ball stops moving and shots stop falling. On Tuesday, the stagnant offense -- desperate for some kind of kick start -- practically made Pierce force looks at the basket, including contested 3-pointers that were off the mark and drives to the rim against multiple defenders that often resulted in turnovers or difficult shots.
Pierce played all 12 minutes of a third quarter that essentially doomed Boston in Game 2, but he produced just five points in the frame. The Celtics needed the team-wide effort that had given them a six-point lead at halftime. Try as he did, Pierce couldn't push his team past its collective woes.
"The offense had its struggles," Pierce said. "And when we don't get the ball inside, or we don't score in the paint, and get easy opportunities, rely on jump shots, that's what you see -- (we) struggle to score. So we have to do a better job of getting to the bucket, try to find a way to get to the free throw line. Get some easy opportunities for us."
Toward the end of the regular season, Pierce embraced a do-it-all sort of role for Boston, putting his stamp on a number of statistical categories in each game. But Boston's offense is in serious limbo right now, and Pierce isn't going to right the ship all by himself. The Celtics need to strike a balance on offense, with Pierce, Garnett and Green spearheading the charge. But for the second game in a row -- and the second half in particular -- Boston couldn't do that, and it paid the price.
"We just didn't come out aggressive in the third quarter," Pierce said. "They put pressure on us defensively, had us on our heels, and we didn't respond. Overall, I like the way we've been defending, but offensively, we have to do a better job of getting open, running our offense, and getting into our sets."