Face facts: Celtics are overmatched

WALTHAM, Mass. -- And now for your NBA daily dose of reality.

The Boston Celtics trail 2-0 in their playoff series with the "Go New York, Go New York, Go New York, Go!" Knicks for one very simple reason: Their opponent is better.

They are also deeper, more versatile and, until further notice (gulp), mentally tougher.

In a league in which success is dictated by superstars, Carmelo Anthony has outplayed resident legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett by a significant margin.

And this is stunning to you? Really?

Feigning surprise that KG, a 36-year-old toothpick with bone spurs in his foot who has logged more than 57,000 career minutes, and Pierce, a 35-year-old who has submitted close to 51,000 career minutes, cannot match the pace of a 28-year-old scoring champ in the prime of his career is like Captain Renault in Casablanca peering into Rick's Cafe and declaring, "I'm shocked … shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

I know, I know. The mental edge. That's what Pierce and KG and any team coached by Doc Rivers has wielded against unproven (albeit talent-laden) upstarts. The Knicks (and Anthony) haven't won anything.

And that's what you are waiting for, clinging to, banking on. The proud, resilient, indomitable veterans will rise again and make a mockery of those who doubted them.

I think you will be administered a healthy dose of Celtics Pride in Game 3. It will be the first time they have played at home since the Boston Marathon bombings and the crowd will deliver a much needed lift to a team that will limp onto the parquet having been nicked up both physically and emotionally.

KG, the centerpiece of the team's defensive soul, is battling a minor hip injury and painful bone spurs that appear to float between his foot and ankle. Team sources confirmed Thursday they remain a hindrance to Garnett, but he will play in Game 3, buoyed by the 18,000-plus disciples who will delight as he lathers himself into a proper pregame Garden froth.

It's a scenario in which KG is at his best.

Since Garnett joined the Celtics, the team is a perfect 13-0 in home playoff games following a road loss in the same postseason, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. Garnett's numbers in those games: 21.4 points a game, 10.8 rebounds, 55.4 percent shooting and 80.3 percent free throw shooting.

Since KG became a Celtic, Boston is 32-7 in home playoff games but only 14-27 on the road. KG has averaged 18.9 points and shot 51.7 percent at the Garden in the postseason, and 16.4 points and 46 percent shooting on the road.

His numbers have suffered in the early returns of the 2013 playoffs along with the rest of his teammates.

We should have known trying to wade into the postseason without a true point guard on the roster would be a dicey proposition. The Knicks sport three point guards and have put them to good use pressuring overmatched Boston ballhandlers (Pablo Prigioni), exploiting slower, older players by penetrating off the dribble (Raymond Felton) and drilling 3-pointers (Jason Kidd).

Conversely, the Celtics have asked Pierce to be a point forward (in addition to being the primary scorer, defensive stopper on Melo and reliable rebounder) and Avery Bradley to be something he's not -- a point guard.

The shared responsibility of distributing the ball in this series has been calamitous. Ball movement becomes extinct in the second half, with botched entry passes and shaky ballhandling crippling Boston's sets.

Bradley is an earnest, hard-working kid who has established himself as an unrelenting full-court defender who suffocates, irritates and overtakes opposing guards.

He thrived alongside Rajon Rondo in the backcourt, but Rondo, a victim of a torn ACL, is long gone, and as the playoff pressure has ratcheted up, Bradley has appeared overwhelmed. He has forced the action. His loopy lobs into the high post in Game 1 were picked off by Knicks defenders like outfielders shagging fly balls. He is clearly uncomfortable bringing the ball up against pressure.

He is being asked to do too much, and he's not alone. Pierce and Green each turned the ball over six times in Game 1 in their roles as "facilitators," and Pierce accrued five more turnovers in Game 2, when multiple defenders converged on him on the block.

"It's amazing what [the pressure] does to you," Rivers said. "We forgot a baseline play out of bounds in the fourth quarter that we've only run since the opening of training camp. It's just, it takes you out of your stuff, and it's done that. We have to be better."

Pierce is all about positive self-talk and has already forgotten his numbers from Game 2, but Green acknowledged Bradley has felt the pressure of his expanded role.

"I've talked to him numerous times about it," Green said. "He's in a tough position. I mean, he's trying to replace a guy like Rondo, which is impossible, and he's trying to make everybody happy, and he's a 2-guard, and he's trying to run plays, trying to get everyone involved. He's wasting a lot of energy [on that].

"We can help him by running the point. We can get him off the ball. We can release the pressure by setting screens on Prigioni. We can make it easier.''

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, while acknowledging the absence of Rondo is significant, dismisses the notion a team needs a point guard to win, citing, among others, LeBron James and the Miami Heat (sorry, Mario Chalmers, but he's kinda right).

The source of his team's woes lies elsewhere, Ainge said.

"The [inability to score in the fourth quarter] is a pattern we've been dealing with for four years now," Ainge explained. "With Rondo and without Rondo. On the road, especially."

The man has a point. You can go all the way back to the stunning implosion in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, when Boston went 4 minutes, 41 seconds without a field goal and was assaulted on the offensive glass.

That Celtics lineup had a healthy Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen and Rondo, held the Lakers to fewer than 85 points (83) and still lost, giving up a whopping 23 offensive rebounds along the way.

Sound familar? The numbers are eerily similar to the data New York has generated.

So what happens to the Boston Celtics in those final two quarters that render them so ineffective?

"I don't know," Ainge admitted. "For whatever reason we don't work as hard on the offensive end in the second half. Maybe it's because we're such a defensive-oriented team. Maybe we expend too much energy on that end.

"We've got to attack, keep the ball moving, be tougher mentally. The Knicks have been better than we have in that regard."

Whenever pundits doubt Rivers' team, he reminds them they expressed a similar sentiment in 2012, when the Celtics came within a whisker of advancing to the NBA Finals.

But that team had Rondo, the once and future king of this team. It had Ray Allen, who spread the floor for KG and Pierce even though he was balky with his own bone spurs.

Allen is gone. Rondo isn't coming back anytime soon. And the Big Two is another year older.

The laundry list of needs is hefty. Green needs to be more aggressive and more effective than 1-of-11 in the second half. Pierce needs to take better care of the ball, even when he's doubled and tripled in the post. KG needs to establish position deep in the low block. Jordan Crawford needs to take -- and hit -- shots. Ditto for Jason Terry. Bradley needs to stop pressing and just play. Courtney Lee needs to find his way back into the rotation. And would a prolonged Shavlik Randolph sighting be all that bad?

These are the problems that mount when your team tries to rebuild on the fly and loses its best player to a torn ACL in the process. This is what happens when your future Hall of Famers, the cornerstones of your franchise, are slated to have their roles diminished over time, but, due to an avalanche of injuries, find themselves once again the No. 1 and No. 2 options.

Four years ago, the Boston Celtics would have been giddy about their chances of winning multiple playoff series with Pierce and Garnett as the top dogs.

Not anymore.

These days, winning a single game is challenging enough.